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”

End Quote

"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 59.

    The question should be; 'Should Scotland become an independendent country again?'

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The new question is fair. I'm a sashenach (sic) and my aim is to get out of Tory England ASAP before it goes down the tubes and out of the EU. The Scots have always been more tolerant and basically socialist in their views. So good luck to them...

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I live on Orkney and consider myself an Orcadian and British, not Scottish.

    I would hope that in his enthusiasm for small nations carving their own destiny, Mr.Salmond will acknowledge that if the majority in Orkney ( and Shetland) vote NO then he will respect our wishes and agree with our right to remain in the UK...along with our mineral deposits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    It would be bad for the Scots to reject the recommendations. The media would have a field day and it would confirm many negative characterisations made by them.

    However I do not seriously believe the EC is independent of Westminster power politics. I'm sure they knew what was "required of them". Early urging from Cameron et al for the Scots to accept indicate they had been sure of the outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Alex Salmond can't be trusted he is leading people down the wrong path and giving a false view of Scotlands current position within the union.

    Shetlands might want Independence from Scotland if Scotland leave the UK, so oil revenues would then be a lot smaller for the Scots, you cannot base an economy solely on oil especially an economy that will be outside the EU for a period of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Sound fine to me; a straight YES/No question: Vote YES!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    20. deleted
    I think Scotland should be an independent country and the border should be just after Birmingham.

    Most Tories probably believe that the border is just after Birmingham.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    It is only the same argument we are using to hold a referendum on EU membership. We cannot question the Scottish for saying the same thing about their membership of the Union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Hopefully.....the majority vote will be for independence and then we can stop having the BBC news pages full of this bilge.

    I know, fancy the British Broadcasting Corporation putting todays news that affects Britain on the front page of the news! Shocking!

    I suggest if you don't like it, go buy the Sun and read about Jordan on the front page?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    The question should be worded as follows-

    ''Would you like Scotland to become a 3rd world nation? Would you like to see it crippled by debt, with rising unemployment? Would you like to wake up each morning to the stench of backed up sewage, to the site of a vandalised, crime riddled street- with no reasonable hope for a brighter future? If so, vote 'YES'!''

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    the question should be:

    do we agree to keep the giro?

  • 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 47.

    There are pros and cons to both sides of the debate, same as whether we should leave the Europe - but seriously now is not the time.

    All this costs a lot of money to decide, then change/not change - can we really afford this now?

    With the mess Labour and now the Tory/Lib Dems have left us, our priorities should be fixing the economy and issues like wasted youth and elderly population.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Power-hungry Alex Salmond, should have no problem with the suggested change, but he will because he knows the election commission are right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Why are we holding this referndum when it is clear the Scottish people do not want to break from the UK. Mr Salmond and his party should (i know that is difficult for a politician) he should cancel this complete waste of time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

    Should not the entity be referred to as a 'state' rather than a 'country'? Country as a defintion seems to be loaded itself in the same way as 'nation'; 'state' however seems more reflective of the realities of the responsibilities of true independence. I'm sure someone will confirm what the correct legal term is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Using the word 'agree' in a ballot question is fraudulently subversive. It implies that the correct vote is the one that 'agrees' rather than disagrees. After all, none of us like to disagree with anyone else; we would much rather agree.
    Also, I think 'agree' seems to undermine the very seriousness of the question being asked.
    Shows how devious the SNP really are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I write as an Englishman:

    Before moving to Scotland, I was proudly British first & foremost.
    Now I am proudly English whenever the opportunity (sporting, usually) arises. Purely in response to thinly-disguised anti-Englishness that generally pervades up here.

    I do not want Scots independence. If it happened, countless small-minded Scots would lose their entire raison d'etre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    However it's worded, I don't think the Scottish people are stupid enough to go along with Salmond and his vanity project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    We should have a vote in England:

    'Do you want Scotland to remain in the UK'?


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