The Electoral Commission has concluded that the SNP’s proposed wording for the referendum on Scottish independence is not fair since it has the potential to lead voters to giving a “Yes” vote.
The Commission, who Alex Salmond had initially been reluctant to accept should look at the question, was eventually asked to test the Scottish government’s proposed question of
“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yes/No”
Whilst the report out today recognises the question is clear, it nevertheless concludes:
“Based on our research and taking into account what we heard from people and organisations who submitted their views on the question, we consider that the proposed question is not neutral because the phrase ‘Do you agree…?’ could lead people towards voting ‘yes’.”
The Commission goes on to recommend the question put to the Scottish people be:
“Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No”
John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said:
“We have rigorously tested the proposed question, speaking to a wide range of people across Scotland. 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’.
“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. We’re asking the UK and Scottish government to provide that clarity and we’ll then make sure it gets to voters as part of our public awareness campaign.”
Whilst the SNP have agreed to the suggested new wording, the development is yet another humiliation for the nationalists who have faced a string of bad news over independence including the European Union rejecting the idea of Scotland automatically joining the EU if it became independent and support for independence slumping.
And last week the publication of the provisional GDP statistics showed the folly of the nationalists basing Scotland’s economic future on North Sea Oil.
In its commentary on the figures, the Office for National Statistics noted:
“Oil and gas extraction were significantly reduced in quarter four 2012 due to extended and later than usual maintenance at the largest North Sea oil field. Excluding oil and gas extraction, GDP falls by only 0.1% compared with the actual fall of 0.3%.”
As the Better Together Campaign declared the announcement to be a “victory for the campaign for a fair referendum”, the campaign’s chair, Alistair Darling, concluded:
“I am pleased that the impartial Electoral Commission has rejected the fixed referendum question which Alex Salmond demanded. They have also rejected the nationalist’s attempts to silence their opponents by setting spending limits that would have given them an unfair advantage. The commission’s experts have also said that nationalist attempts to gag business, unions and civil society are wrong.
“I think that once the referee has blown the whistle the players should obey the decision. That is why we said months ago that we would accept the Commission’s recommendations in their entirety.
“Over the past few months, we have called on the nationalists to follow our lead and agree to having the Electoral Commission set the rules. It looks like we have won that argument. Alex Salmond has had to concede that he cannot be both the referee and player in this particular game. This is thanks to the thousands of people who joined our campaign for fair referendum rules.
“Now that the rules have been agreed we can get on with the debate. It is a debate that we intend to win.
“We are Better Together with our friends, families and workmates from across the UK. It is a message that, I’m sure, the majority of Scots can agree with.”
• Experts slap down Salmond’s plan for a two-question Scottish independence referendum – August 23rd, 2012
• MPs accuse SNP of “biased” independence question – May 8th, 2012
• Salmond’s Scottish referendum is a textbook example of a leading question – January 27th, 2012