Scottish independence: SNP accepts call to change referendum question


Scottish Electoral Commissioner John McCormick said voters were entitled to have confidence in the result of the referendum

The Scottish government has agreed to change the wording of its independence referendum question, after concerns it may lead people to vote 'Yes'.

SNP ministers wanted to ask voters the yes/no question: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" in autumn 2014.

The wording of the question will now be altered to: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The change was suggested by the Electoral Commission watchdog.

Final approval of the referendum arrangements rests with the Scottish Parliament.

In a report on the issue, the commission, which has been testing the government's proposed wording, said concern had been raised over the phrase "Do you agree" and said more "neutral" language was needed.

Referendum question

Proposed yes/no referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Original Scottish government question: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would accept in full the commission's recommendations, which also include increases in the campaign spending limits proposed by the Scottish government in the run-up to the referendum.

That would see the cap on the two main opposing campaigns - Yes Scotland and Better Together - raised from £750,000 to £1.5m, while there would also be changes in the cap for political parties.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I am particularly delighted with the conclusion the Electoral Commission has reached on the question. While its view is that our proposed question was clear, simple and easy to understand, I am nevertheless happy to accept their recommended change.

Start Quote

The Electoral Commission's report has been welcomed for an exceptionally deft piece of skill in finding a formula which pleases everyone - or, more precisely, displeases them all so minimally that they are constrained to agree for fear of appearing curmudgeonly”

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"I am also pleased with the spending limits proposed by the Electoral Commission - they deliver a level playing field and will allow a fair and balanced debate on both sides."

For the UK government, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore added: "We accept the commission's advice on the clarity of the question, the funding levels for the referendum and on the clarity of the process.

"The UK government has always acted on the advice of the Electoral Commission for every previous referendum."

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accepted all the commission's recommendations

Scottish ministers also welcomed a call from the Electoral Commission to clarify the process which would follow the referendum result, under a joint agreement by both governments, to avoid confusion.

UK ministers said they had already begun setting out views on the post-referendum process, and Prime Minister David Cameron said he would not ''pre-negotiate Scotland's exit from the United Kingdom".

Yes Scotland and Better Together also welcomed the commission's findings.

Scottish Electoral Commissioner John McCormick said voters were entitled to have confidence in the result of the referendum.

He said: "We have rigorously tested the proposed question, speaking to a wide range of people across Scotland.

Campaign spending limits

Electoral Commission recommendations, as accepted by the Scottish government (original proposals in brackets)

  • Designated lead campaigns (Yes Scotland and Better Together): £1,500,000 (£750,000)
  • Scottish National Party: £1,344,000 (£250,000)
  • Scottish Labour: £834,000 (£250,000)
  • Scottish Conservatives: £396,000 (£250,000)
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats: £201,000 (£250,000)
  • Scottish Green Party: £150,000 (£250,000)
  • Other registered campaigners: £150,000 (£50,000)
  • Campaigns spending below £10,000 are not required to register.

Limits cover the 16-week regulated period before the poll.

"Any referendum question must be, and be seen to be, neutral. People told us that they felt the words 'Do you agree' could lead voters towards voting 'yes'."

Calling on the Scottish and UK governments to work together to provide more clarity on the referendum, the commissioner added: "People had a clear understanding that 'independent country' meant being separate from the UK.

"But they did want factual information in advance about what will happen after the referendum."

On campaign spending limits - which cover the "regulated", 16-week period of the campaign before the poll is held - the commission based its recommendations partly on information it now had on the likely shape and scale of campaigning.

Mr McCormick said: "The campaign spending limits we have recommended are designed to ensure there are no barriers to voters hearing from campaigners in what will be a historic vote for the people of Scotland.

"We have listened carefully to the views of the Scottish government and to campaigners, and have set out proposals based on our principles that spending limits should allow effective campaigning for all outcomes, deter excessive spending and encourage transparency."

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said a fair referendum was what mattered most

In drawing its findings on the question, commission spoke to voters across Scotland to see whether they could easily understand and answer the question and took advice from "plain language" experts, politicians, academics and others.

The question and spending limits will form part of a Referendum Bill to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in March.

The legislation is expected to be approved by MSPs without any major issues, given the SNP's overall majority at Holyrood.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    After all the hysterics from the Unonists regarding questions amongst other things, here we have the SNP simply accepting the advice of the Electorial Commission to change the question and they do so with not a whimper or fuss. Must be galling for those hysterical people who look for problems in everything. No doubt they will remain resolutely negative. Well done the SNP for showing maturity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I'd suggest that there should be two versions of the ballot papers, randomly distributed. Half the ballot papers should read.

    "I want Scotland to be (tick one):
    1. Independent ()
    2. Part of the United Kingdom ()"

    And the rest should read

    "I want Scotland to be (tick one):
    1. Part of the United Kingdom ()
    2. Independent ()"

    A yes/no question is too leading.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    It should be phrased like a standard election choice.
    I think Scotland should be an independent country (tick box A)
    I think that Scotland should remain in the UK (tick box B)
    No leading question, so no confusion over choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I hope that the SNP do take the comission's advice and change the question. I hope that people will have enough sense to vote no - as a Scot I find it scary that the current polls between yes and no are so close and people who don't live in Scotland shouldn't get a say no :-s Why should people that don't even live here get to decide my future?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Sounds very sensible, question must not be loaded in either direction. Interestingly, there is a huge difference in how the question is phrased, especially if people are not quite sure in their opinion.


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