Scotland politics

Electoral Commission would want to review indyref2 question

Aberdeen independence march
Image caption Supporters of another independence referendum marched in Aberdeen at the weekend

The Electoral Commission would want to assess the wording of the question for a new Scottish independence vote even if it was the same one used in 2014.

A Scottish government official has suggested this would be unnecessary as the question is already "tested".

But the election watchdog said it would want to review the question in the light of possible new evidence.

The Scottish government said the 2014 vote provided a clear precedent for a simple, straightforward question.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants a fresh independence poll before the next Holyrood elections in 2021, and has suggested the "right time" would be in the second half of 2020.

Ahead of the September 2014 independence referendum, the Electoral Commission agreed there could be "Yes" and "No" answers to the question of "should Scotland be an independent country?".

But two years later the body rejected a yes/no approach for the EU referendum because the proposed question asked whether the UK "should remain a member of the European Union".

It said there were fears this was "not balanced", and instead recommended the question ultimately used, which mentioned both "leave" and "remain".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 2014 independence referendum required a yes or no answer

In May the Scottish government published the Referendums (Scotland) Bill to establish the framework for any future independence vote, and Holyrood's constitution committee has been taking evidence on this bill.

Penny Curtis, deputy director of elections at the Scottish government, told the committee in June that "the framework wouldn't require ministers to get the commission to test the question again, if they were seeking to use the same question again".

However, in a written submission the Electoral Commission has confirmed it would want to look again at the wording.

It said: "The commission firmly recommends that it must be required to provide views and advice to the Scottish Parliament on the wording of any referendum question included in legislation under this proposed framework, regardless of whether we have previously published our views on the proposed wording."

A Scottish government spokesman said the its bill made specific provision for the involvement of the Electoral Commission to consider a proposed referendum question.

He added: "It will be for parliament as a whole to decide and vote on these matters - both the proposals in the Bill and in any regulations made under it - and we will, of course, listen to all views put forward.

"The 2014 referendum question was proposed by the Electoral Commission and provides a clear precedent for a simple, straightforward and understandable question."

Suggested timetable

The Scottish government is not obliged to accept the commission's recommendations but ignoring them could be seized on by its political opponents.

A future UK government might also make Electoral Commission approval a condition before authorising a future independence vote through a Section 30 order.

The Electoral Commission submission to the Holyrood committee also sets out a suggested timetable for organising another independence vote.

It says it would require 12 weeks to assess the question and proposes the legislation be published six months before the final referendum period when rules about campaigning and spending apply.

The commission also says campaigners in any future vote be required to give more information about their spending, and it calls for more stringent penalties for breaches of campaign finance rules.

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