Scotland politics

MSPs back Scottish independence referendum bill

An all-party committee of MSPs has voted to back detailed plans to give the Scottish parliament the power to hold an independence referendum.

The initiative was contained in the Edinburgh Agreement signed by the prime minister and the first minister.

Proposed powers include allowing MSPs to choose the question, set the date and also give the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

It now goes to the full Scottish parliament for ratification.

The scheme also requires endorsement at Westminster where it may face a tougher challenge, especially in the House of Lords.

Dr Nicola McEwen, a constitutional expert at Edinburgh University who gave evidence to the committee, said she was concerned that the SNP administration's proposed question "may be construed as leading voters toward a positive answer".

The Electoral Commission has started the task of reviewing the wording of the question and will offer advice to the Scottish government.

Committee convener Bruce Crawford, an SNP member of the parliament who led the Scottish government's initial referendum negotiations with the UK government, asked Holyrood's librarians to examine whether the Electoral Commission's recommendations have always been followed.

In response, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre prepared a note which confirms that the commission cannot compel ministers to follow its advice, and details a case concerning upcoming council tax referendums in England where that advice was initially challenged by the UK government before a form of words was agreed.

A Scotland Office spokesman said:‬ "The UK government has accepted the Electoral Commission's advice and question in every referendum which has been held in the UK.

"This was confirmed at the weekend by the Electoral Commissioner with responsibility for Scotland."‬