MSPs urge Scottish ministers to test any indyref2 question

The finance and constitution committee said the 'weight of evidence' is in favour of testing.

Referendum: Question should be tested, urge MSPs. <strong>Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images</strong>
Referendum: Question should be tested, urge MSPs. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

The Scottish Government has been urged to “come to an agreement” with the Electoral Commission on testing the question in any new independence referendum.

A report by Holyrood’s finance and constitution committee called on ministers to consult the UK’s election watchdog due to the “weight of evidence” in favour of testing.

Constitutional relations secretary Michael Russell has repeatedly insisted the same question should be used as in the 2014 referendum and that there would be no need to re-test it.

The Electoral Commission tested the 2014 proposition, with the body agreeing there could be “Yes” and “No” answers to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

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However, two years later it determined in the Brexit referendum that the options on the ballot paper should be “Remain” and “Leave”.

MSPs are considering the government’s Referendums Bill, designed to pave the way for a second independence vote in 2020.

They backed the principles of the Bill but recommended an amendment to ensure any referendum campaign would be a minimum of 10 weeks long.

On the referendum question, Russell told MSPs during the Bill’s scrutiny he was “against re-testing in circumstances that do not require that”.

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But speaking after the report’s release, he added he is “open to constructive proposals”.

“I welcome the committee’s thoughtful scrutiny and its unanimous support for the objectives of the Bill,” the minister said.

“I will seriously consider the report’s findings.

“There is still a strong case, in my view, for not changing a question which has been previously proposed and tested by the Electoral Commission, remains in use and has the confidence of the public.”

Committee convener Bruce Crawford said: “We welcome the approach taken by the cabinet secretary in his oral evidence to our committee where he indicated that he is ‘open to alternative approaches to all aspects of the Bill’ and how it can be improved.

“Our recommendations are intentionally framed to inform an open discussion on how the Bill can be improved based on the substantial evidence received.”

The question testing process takes up to 12 weeks, consisting of focus groups and in-depth interviews with members of the public as well as expert advice before a final report is published.

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Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner previously told MSPs the body did not have a pre-existing view of what any future independence referendum question should be.

Allowing the commission to test the question “to establish that the question is clear, transparent and neutral” would give voters and campaigners confidence in the question, the watchdog argues – but could also result in the question being different to the last independence poll.


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