Scottish independence: What is the 16 week referendum period for?

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Scotland Decides

Go to the BBC's Scotland Decides page for analysis, background and explainers on the independence debate.

A new chapter in the Scottish independence referendum story is about to be written - because we've now entered into the official campaign period.

Voters north of the border will go to the polls on 18 September when they will be asked the "Yes/No" question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

They've got about 16 weeks to listen, watch and read all the arguments - from both sides of the campaign - in order to make up their minds.

But what is this campaign period all about? Here's everything you would want to know....

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What is the referendum period?
Forth Bridge

It's a timeframe in the run up to the 18 September vote itself to ensure the campaign is fought fairly, and aims to provide a level playing field when it comes to issues like spending.

It has been set out in the Scottish government's Referendum Act, which contains the rules for the campaign.

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Why 16 weeks?

This has roots in the last big referendum seen in the UK - the 2011 poll on changing the way MPs are elected.

In its post-AV referendum report, the Electoral Commission recommended the 10-week period be increased to at least 16 weeks, to allow more time for the main campaigns to put their arguments to voters.

This 16-week period is also in line with the campaign spending period for Scottish Parliament elections.

And it's not to be confused with the referendum "purdah period", which prevents government from announcing new legislation. That begins on 21 August.

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Spending limits

Anyone can splash up to £10,000 on campaigning during the referendum period. Any more, though, and they need to register with the Electoral Commission watchdog.

The main opposing campaigns for independence and the Union - Yes Scotland and Better Together - each get to spend £1.5m during the referendum period, under their "lead campaigner" status.

They also get free stuff, like a voter mailshot and complimentary use of certain public spaces.

In terms of political parties, the SNP is allowed to spend £1,344,000 while the Greens - Holyrood's other pro-independence party - have a £150,000 limit.

Scottish Labour gets to spend £831,000, the Scottish Conservatives £399,000 and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, £204,000.

What are the referendum campaigns all about? We explain.

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Rule breaking

Exceeding a spending limit is a criminal offence and the Electoral Commission has powers to impose civil sanctions.

The Crown Office - Scotland's criminal prosecution service - can also prosecute offences through the courts.

Campaign material is subject to the usual laws which cover things like defamation, copyright and intention to stir up racial hatred.

The Electoral Commission doesn't regulate campaign material.

The police are responsible for investigating alleged offences, while defamation issues are a matter for the civil courts.

What is the Electoral Commission's role in the referendum?

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Who can campaign?
Alex Salmond

Members of the public can search for registered campaigners through the Electoral Commission.

The rules allow a wide variety of official campaigners, from individuals to groups, companies and trade unions - as long as they're registered in the UK.

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Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

Campaigners need to send monthly donation and loan reports to the Electoral Commission, the first of these due on Tuesday 8 July.

Those who have spent £250,000 or less need to send in their spending returns by 18 December 2014, while those which have spent more than that get until 18 March, next year.

And remember, if you want to vote in the referendum, you must be registered by midnight on 2 September. The application deadline for a postal or proxy vote is 17:00 the next day.

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Press rules
BBC Scotland

News reports, features and editorials in print or online media are not subject to electoral law, says the Electoral Commission.

Broadcasters must stick to rules on impartiality and guidelines on how to achieve this have been published by both the BBC and regulator Ofcom.

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Referendum re-run?
Voting booth

The chances are that the referendum will be done and dusted when a result is declared on 19 September.

However, the result is open to challenge by judicial review, provided a case is brought within six weeks of the result.

More on This Story

More Scotland politics stories


Scotland Live

    Bye for now 17:00: Marianne Taylor BBC Scotland news

    Right, that's it from BBC Scotland Live for today. BBC Sport will have live commentary of the opening ceremony from 19:00, and you'll also be able to watch the festivities live on the BBC iPlayer.

    We'll be back at 07:00 tomorrow with the latest news, sport, weather and travel from across the country, and will be be keeping a close eye on the first day of competitive action at Glasgow 2014. Hope you can join us.

    Weather update 16:54: Christopher Blanchett BBC Weather presenter

    Tonight's Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony will be dry and sunny, with temperatures expected to hit 20C.

    Glasgow 2014

    The sunshine is set to continue tomorrow after a misty start. Low cloud will roll back to the coast quickly, so it'll be a better afternoon for Inverness and east coast areas.

    Temperatures will rise to around 25C inland with sea breezes meaning it will be feel cooler than today.

    Stop those bikes! 16:40:

    You may remember our earlier picture of the Sri Lankan Commonwealth Games team cycling on the M74.

    Sri Lanka cyclists

    The ever-so-keen competitors were spotted on one of Scotland's busiest stretches of road, just outside Glasgow at the exit for Motherwell and Hamilton - they were later stopped by police and told they were breaking the law.

    Games fever 16:33: Via Twitter Team Scotland 800m runner Guy Learmonth

    tweets: The countdown is over @Glasgow2014 Commonwealth Games starts today! Let's go @Team_Scotland This is our time!!!

    Glasgow is 'freedom city', says Salmond 16:22:

    First Minister Alex Salmond has called Glasgow "freedom city", saying the latest polls indicate the city will vote for independence in September.

    Alex Salmond

    Mr Salmond made the comments during in an interview with the Evening Times newspaper, despite repeating that he was on a "self-denying ordinance" not to debate politics during the Commonwealth Games.

    Pro-Union Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson described the remarks as "desperate".

    16:10: Via Twitter Jane Lewis BBC Scotland

    tweets: So #Fiji finally got to see the #QueensBaton today. @Team_Scotland delivered it to them at the athletes village.

    Team Fiji finally get to see the Queen's Baton

    The South Pacific nation was handed a full suspension from the Commonwealth in 2009 after refusing to allow democratic elections. The suspension was downgraded in March, allowing Fiji to compete at the Glasgow 2014 games.

    The move was in recognition of Fiji's progress towards holding national elections by September this year.

    Good luck! 16:04: Via Twitter Glasgow Warriors captain Al Kellock

    tweets: Good luck to all @Team_Scotland over the next couple of weeks should be a great games in a fantastic city and there might even be some sun.

    Baton memento 16:00: Via Twitter Catriona Renton BBC Scotland

    tweets: #bbcbatonrelay and the baton arrives at the old fruitmarket. A granite gem stone has been left as a memento.

    BBC Baton Relay
    Glorious Glasgow 15:57: Clare Balding BBC Sport presenter

    tweets: For all the planning in the world you can't control this but Glasgow is looking GLORIOUS! #CommonwealthGames

    Clare Balding tweet
    Sunny delight for Selkirk 15:53:

    Dry weather has meant part of a £31.4m flood protection scheme for Selkirk is likely to be completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

    Selkirk flood prevention

    Low river levels have allowed efforts to lay new pipes ahead of replacing a footbridge to progress quickly.

    The new measures will remove 595 homes from being considered at risk from flooding.

    Boy rescued from river dies 15:45:

    A 10-year-old boy has died after getting into difficulties in a river in Argyll.

    Emergency services were called to the incident on the River Orchy at 13:45 on Tuesday.

    River Orchy

    The boy was rescued by a passer-by, close to the Caledonian Forest Reserve at Bridge of Orchy, but died at Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow the early hours.

    A801 closed 15:37: Via Twitter BBC Travel Scotland

    Falkirk: A801 Lathallan CLOSED btwn M9 J4 & Vellore Rd following RTA. Police directing traffic. The road will be closed for some time yet.

    Anderson confident of Europa success 15:35:

    Aberdeen's Russell Anderson says his side are more than capable of grabbing a vital away goal in their Europa League second round, second leg qualifier against Groningen tomorrow night.


    The first leg at Pittodrie ended 0-0 and the Dutch side are confident they will progress at the expense of the Scottish side, but the Dons captain feels that his side are well placed to progress.

    "Some of our best results last season came away from home," says Anderson. "The way that we set our team up sometimes makes it easier for us to hit teams on the break."

    "We are definitely thinking it's something we can get a result from."

    Fatal accident on A801 15:25:

    Emergency services are attending a fatal road accident involving a lorry and a car on the A801 near Polmont.

    The crash happened at about 14:40 near to the Lathallan roundabout.


    A police statement said that there was a number of fatalities. The A801 between Lathallan and Bowhouse is closed and there are diversions in place.

    Magic moments 15:14:

    For the past 40 days, the Queen's Baton has travelled to every corner of Scotland as part of the countdown to Glasgow 2014.

    baton bearer

    From St Kilda to the Kelpies, Coldstream to Coatbridge, it was welcomed by communities across the country as the 4,000 baton bearers were celebrated for their achievements.

    BBC Scotland's Graham Fraser compiled the highlights.

    Festival atmosphere 15:06: Christopher Blanchett BBC Weather presenter

    tweets: Great atmosphere down at @bbcthequay today! Sunshine helping too!

    BBC at the Quay
    PM in Glasgow 14:58: Via Twitter James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: David Cameron hails investment in Glasgow, Grangemouth, broadband, oil and renewables as enticing for foreign investors. #Glasgowbiz2014

    Swiss here to meet Saints 14:51:

    FC Lucerne, the Europa League qualifying opponents of Scottish Cup holders St Johnstone, have just tweeted a picture of them arriving at Edinburgh airport.

    FC Lucerne arrive at Edinburgh airport

    They go head-to-head at McDiarmid Park on Thursday night with the tie poised at 1-1 after the first leg.

    Our top stories 14:45: Marianne Taylor BBC Scotland news

    Which stories are getting the most hits on the BBC News Scotland website? Here's how it currently stands:

    1. Man falls 50ft at Arthur's Seat
    2. Glasgow ready for Games opening
    3. Man jailed for bin lorry rampage
    BBC News website screenshot
    Watch out for pufflings... 14:38:

    Coastal residents are being urged to look out for surprise garden guests over the next few weeks.

    The Scottish Seabird Centre has appealed for people in East Lothian to be on the lookout for young puffins, known as pufflings, as they begin to leave their burrows on islands in the Firth of Forth.


    Pufflings have been known to hide under cars after becoming disorientated by lights on the mainland while heading out to sea.

    The seabird centre has already rescued its first puffling, which was released back into the wild after it was discovered struggling on the beach at North Berwick.

    Man jailed for bin lorry rampage 14:27:

    A man who went on the rampage in a stolen bin lorry, trying to ram police cars and crashing into a bridge, has been jailed for four months.

    David Russell led officers on a 30-mile chase after stealing the vehicle from a Stirling Council compound.

    The 25-year-old admitted what a sheriff called "an extraordinary sequence of dangerous driving" on 7 June.

    Cricket at the Games? 14:22: Via Twitter Team Scotland

    tweets: Cricket on Scotland Street has become the normal evening activity here in the Village. #GoScotland

    Team Scotland playing cricket
    Man falls off Arthur's Seat 14:14:

    A man is in hospital with head and neck injuries after falling 50ft from Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh.

    Arthur's Seat

    Emergency services were called at 21:30 on Tuesday to Radical Road below the huge cliff. The Scottish Fire and rescue Service used a line rescue and carried the man to an ambulance in the park.

    The name's Bond... 14:05: Via Twitter James Shaw BBC Radio 5 live Scotland correspondent

    tweets: 007 meets 005. Sir Roger talking to our own Pete Allen. On Drive later.

    Roger Moore and Peter Allen
    Dons depart for Netherlands 13:58:

    Three of Scotland's football teams are in Europa League qualifying action tomorrow night - Aberdeen, Motherwell and St Johnstone.

    Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson

    BBC Scotland's Liam McLeod caught up with the Aberdeen squad as they left the city's airport, bound for the Netherlands and the second leg of their match versus Groningen.

    Dons' captain Russell Anderson insists there's more pressure on the Dutch side following their 0-0 draw at Pittodrie in the first leg.

    The winners face Real Sociedad of Spain.

    13:53: Via Twitter James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Bank of England governor Mark Carney engaging in flattery at @GlasgowUni, praising Hume and Smith. #glasgow2014biz

    Mark Carney
    Flagging up the Games 13:44:

    Obviously we expect to see Saltires galore during the Games, as well as the flags of the 70 other countries competing at Glasgow 2014.

    Saltire flag

    But what other flags should we look out for? BBC Scotland's Martin Currie finds out.

    13:36: Via Twitter Team Scotland swimmer Michael Jamieson

    tweets: Right, time to go. Heat swim is tomorrow at 12.37pm! Appreciate all the good luck notes - keep em coming!! #GoScotland

    Reporting Scotland - BBC One Scotland 13:33:

    Reporting Scotland with Sally McNair has just started on BBC One Scotland.

    Tune in for the latest on the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony tonight.

    310 of the best 13:25:

    We mentioned earlier today that there are 310 athletes in total competing for Team Scotland at Glasgow 2014.

    That number is made up of 168 men and 142 women.

    Here, BBC Scotland's Keir Murray ensures we all know who's doing what.

    Sri Lankan wrong turn 13:16: Via Twitter Team England triathlete Jonathan Brownlee

    tweets: Just seen the Sri Lankan cycling team on the M74. Suppose it is a nice wide road!!

    Sri Lanka on M74
    Weather update 13:12: Judith Ralston BBC Weather presenter

    This afternoon will be very warm with temperatures possibly hitting 28C in some inland areas. A cool easterly breeze will see Edinburgh and Dundee slightly cooler with a high of 21C.

    The high temperatures may well trigger off an isolated shower across the north west Highlands in the early evening, with an odd one possible over the high ground of central and southern Scotland.

    You can watch a full weather forecast here.

    Can we keep the Faith? 13:00:

    Singer Paloma Faith proved to be another big hit with the crowds when she played BBC at the Quay.

    The singer played a couple of numbers for the Ken Bruce show, filmed in front of a live studio audience.

    Paloma Faith At BBC PQ

    You can find out more about the festival and watch a live stream of the events on the BBC at the Quay website.

    12:48: Edinburgh Evening News

    tweets: Police appeal for witnesses after man assaulted in Morningside in broad daylight.

    Read the full story here.

    Warriors snap up de Klerk 12:44:

    Rugby sevens is one of 17 sports at Glasgow 2014, with action there beginning on Saturday at Ibrox stadium.

    However, in the 15-a-side game, the Pro12 side Glasgow Warriors have added South African prop Rossouw de Klerk to their ranks.

    Rossouw de Klerk

    The 24-year-old joins Warriors on a two-year contract from Super 15 team Cheetahs.

    He's their fifth signing ahead of the 2014-15 season.

    Google's Games crazy 12:37:

    Okay, admit it, sometimes you just log onto Google to check what their animation is for the day, correct?

    Well, today you'll see clearly that they, too, are in Commonwealth Games mode.

    The Scottish designer who came up with the idea is originally from Stirling, trained in Dundee and now lives in Edinburgh.

    Cycling for success 12:34: Laura Bicker Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Team Scotland having a wee cycle through Merchant City #Glasgow2014

    Team Scotland in Merchant City
    Glasgow tower reopens after fire 12:27:

    Glasgow Science Centre tower has opened as normal after fire crews were called last night to tackle a smoking cable.

    Fire at Glasgow Science Centre tower

    A member of the public spotted smoke coming from the lift motor room after the tower had closed.

    The crew of HMS Bangor, which is moored nearby, extinguished the smoke before the fire service arrived. The Science Centre said the short-circuited cable had been repaired overnight and the tower was operating as normal.

    Police release rape data 12:24:

    More rapes were reported in West Fife than any other area in Scotland between April 2013 and May this year, according to data obtained by BBC Scotland.

    Figures from Police Scotland reveal that the command area - which includes Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath - received 102 reports over the 14-month period.

    You can explore the data for your own Police Scotland here.

    United reject Robertson bid 12:12:

    BBC Scotland's Jim Spence has confirmed Dundee United have rejected an increased offer from Hull City for Scotland left-back Andrew Robertson.

    The Humberside club's approach was worth £2m plus add-ons for the 20-year-old.

    Dundee United's Andrew Robertson

    A United source told BBC Scotland that approaches from West Ham United had also been knocked back.

    Building up... 12:04: John Beattie BBC Scotland

    Join me on BBC Radio Scotland where we'll be bringing you all the build-up ahead of tonight's opening ceremony.

    I'll be asking how well Team Scotland can expect to do, and will flag up the athletes to watch.

    We'll also be looking back at Manchester's Games in 2002 and discussing the legacy.

    Record catch? 11:59:

    An angler from Whitby has landed what could be the largest fish ever caught off Britain's shores while on the Isle of Skye.

    Dan Bennett took an hour to land the 208lb (94kg) common skate in Kilmalaug Bay.

    Dan Bennett skater image

    The fish was 88.25in (224.15cm) long and 66.75in (169.54cm) wide. Because it was not weighed at the scene it is likely to be listed as an unofficial British record.

    The fish was returned to sea alive.

    Scots athletes welcome baton 11:56: Via Twitter Team Scotland

    tweets: The @Batonrelay2014 stops by Scotland Street. Real buzz in the air today... no prizes for guessing why! #GoScotland

    Queen's baton
    Cancer charity investigated 11:44:

    A cancer charity that helped fly a terminally ill Aberdeenshire girl home from Mexico is to be investigated.

    Families Against Neuroblastoma led a £150,000 appeal for Olivia Downie, from Fraserburgh. The seven-year-old died days after flying home in June 2012.

    It is understood Olivia's parents complained to the Charity Commission.

    Snooker ace embraces Games 11:38: Via Twitter Alan McManus

    tweets: "Welcome to the Glasgow Games everyone. Enjoy the sport...and the sunshine. It's scorchio by the way."

    Snooker player Tony Hall
    Your photos 11:32:

    David Blunt sent us this stunning image of the shimmering sands at the beach at Hosta on North Uist.

    Hosta beach

    Send us your own photos via email or twitter using #ScotlandLive.

    Wildcat haven 11:23:

    The Scottish wildcat is on the brink of extinction, say conservationists, with some warning that numbers of pure-bred cats have fallen to just 35 individuals.


    In an effort to bolster numbers experts have set-up a special haven for the species on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula in the north west Highlands.

    Read more about the project here.

    Which sport are you made for? 11:00:

    Take 30 seconds to dash through the 13 quick questions in our sports quiz and we'll have our best stab at suggesting which events from the Commonwealth Games could match your physical and mental abilities.

    Sports graphic
    Jags sign Osman 10:52:

    Amidst all the excitement around Glasgow 2014, Partick Thistle are doing their best to remind everyone that football exists!

    Partick Thistle midfielder Abdul Osman

    They've made a signing this morning and it's 27-year-old Ghanaian midfielder Abdul Osman.

    The former Gretna man played in a friendly against Dumbarton on Saturday and signs a one-year contract.

    On the Waterfront 10:40:

    It was an early start for the BBC At The Quay festival this morning with a special broadcast of Radio 2's Ken Bruce breakfast programme in front of a packed studio audience.

    Our colleagues at BBC Scotland tweeted this great picture of Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr performing for the show.

    Simple Minds at the BBC

    You can find out more about the BBC At The Quay festival and watch a live stream of the events here.

    Edinburgh river body identified 10:32:

    A man whose body was recovered from the Water of Leith in Edinburgh has been identified.

    The body of Henry Archibald, 40, was discovered near the Stenhouse Industrial Estate at about 09:30 on Monday.

    Police officers generic

    A bike, thought to belong to Mr Archibald, was found nearby. Police say there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

    Miley's Twitter sabbatical 10:24:

    Competitive action at Glasgow 2014 is now less than 24 hours away, with Team Scotland comprising 310 athletes - 168 men and 142 women.

    Hannah Miley

    Swimmer Hannah Miley is first-up for Team Scotland tomorrow at 10:30 in the women's 400m individual medley.

    Miley, from Inverurie, tweeted last night: "Right guys I'm going into social media lock down as of tomorrow [Wednesday] morning so no twitter and facebook for me until I've finished racing!! Hope you enjoy watching the Commonwealth games! Remember to support your team :-)"

    Flybe expands Aberdeen flights 10:16:

    Flybe has announced it will take over the service between Aberdeen and London City airport.

    British Airways said last month it was pulling out of the route in October.

    Flybe aircraft

    Flybe will operate twice daily flights, by 78-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft, starting on 27 October.

    Tigers chase Robertson 10:08:

    Dundee United have rejected an improved £2m-plus offer from Hull City for highly-rated Scotland defender Andrew Robertson. However, Tigers manager Steve Bruce is expected to come back with another offer to secure the 20-year-old's signature.

    Andrew Robertson in action for Dundee united

    Elsewhere, English Premiership side Southampton are set to make an improved second bid for Celtic's Fraser Forster after the first was described as "well below" the Parkhead club's valuation of the English international.

    Read more footie gossip here.

    Clydeside expressway 10:00: Games travel 2014

    tweets: #GRG driving in Glasgow this morning? No access to Clydeside Expressway from Finnieston Street. Please use alternative routes.

    Glasgow 2014 - your views 09:52: Via SMS

    Pauline: You'll need to look far and wide for a moanie minnie this day Kay. 15,000 volunteers believe in the Games!

    Willie in Wick: Bring on the Games. I'll be glued to the TV coverage every day and night. The world will be watching not only the Commonwealth, so come on Scotland, you can do it.

    Anonymous: What a waste of money, we can't repair the holes in roads.

    See the sights... 09:44:

    With Games fever taking hold, unusual sights - and sites - have been popping up all over Glasgow. BBC Scotland's Louise Andrews and Laura Pettigrew have been out and about charting them.


    Read all about it here.

    Deila maintains 100% record 09:37:

    It's not been too shabby a start for new Celtic manager Ronny Deila, whose team cruised past Icelandic side KR Reykjavik and into the third qualifying round of the Champions League last night.

    Celtic manager Ronny Deila

    Doubles from Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk and Finnish forward Teemu Pukki gave Celtic a 4-0 win on the night, 5-0 on aggregate.

    They'll face the winners of the tie between Irish team St Patrick's and Polish side Legia Warsaw, who meet tonight.

    So, two wins, two clean-sheets and five goals for Deila... happy, Celtic fans? Let us know using #ScotlandLive on Twitter, or by emailing here.

    Making the news 09:29:

    The opening of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games dominates the front of all Scotland's newspapers.

    Newspapers 23 July

    Each carries its own message of support. "The sun rises on Glasgow's golden Games" is the Herald's headline, while the Daily Record proclaims "Bring it on" next to a striking image of a child with a Saltire painted on her face.

    Read more in our daily newspaper review.

    Glasgow hotspots 09:22:

    BBC Newsbeat got a tour of Glasgow's hotspots from Games volunteer Katie Kinloch, 19.

    Clydesider 19-year-old Katie Kinloch

    The 15,000 Clyde-siders, as they are known, are key to the success of the Games, helping athletes, officials and visitors make the best of their time in Glasgow.

    Watch Katie's video here.

    Morning Call 09:08: BBC Radio Scotland

    After seven years of preparation, the moment is finally here as the Commonwealth Games kick off in Glasgow tonight.

    Presenter Kaye Adams asks: Are you excited or can you see it far enough? We also want to hear about the furthest travelled visitor to the Games - how far have you come to get here?

    Lines are open now. Call 0500 92 95 00, text 80295 or email

    You can listen live to the debate here.

    Today's weather 09:03: Judith Ralston BBC Weather presenter

    The recent dry and warm weather will continue across the country. Any morning mist and fog will burn back towards the east coast, where some patches of haar will linger for much of the day, particularly over Orkney and the east of Shetland.

    It'll be another very warm day with temperatures reaching 25C to 27C for many inland areas, with light breezes cooling Dundee and Edinburgh to a high of around 22C.

    The high temperatures may trigger off a few showers late this afternoon and into the early evening, mainly across the northwest Highlands, with possibly the odd one developing over the high ground of central and southern Scotland.

    Latest updates
    Good morning 08:58: Marianne Taylor BBC Scotland news

    Good morning, and welcome to BBC Scotland Live. We'll be here till 17:00, bringing you the latest news, sport, weather and travel from across the country.

    It's a big day for Glasgow and Scotland, with the opening of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park just hours away. We'll have all the build-up throughout the day.

    Stay in touch and send us your pictures using Twitter #ScotlandLive, email us at or text to 80295.



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