Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran was this afternoon expected to tell a Holyrood conference the SNP is shying away from a single-question referendum amid claims that “spin and speculation” on a post-independent Scotland is all the party has to offer.
Speaking at Scottish Politics Explained, organised by Holyrood and taking place in central London, the Glasgow East MP was set to accuse First Minister Alex Salmond of turning the independence debate into a political face-saving exercise compared with one on the country’s constitutional future.
The criticism comes as Salmond today quashed calls from opposition leaders for an independent commission to draw up the question to be put before the electorate, confirming instead the Electoral Commission will be drafted in to advise on and test the question, or questions.
Curran is one of a series of speakers, including Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, former Scottish Government Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, Jim Mather, and former First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, who were speaking on the fate of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Labour MP Curran said ministerial written answers reveal that the Scottish Government has failed to have a single conversation on the implications of a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum expected to take place in 2014.
Curran was this afternoon expected to say: “The SNP used to believe in independence, but as every day of the campaign goes on, it looks like they no longer do. Now we know that SNP Ministers in Edinburgh haven’t had a single conversation with the UK Government about what would happen after separation.
“After months of assertions from the SNP, we now know that on the most important issues – on the economy and jobs, on our welfare system and on the defence of our country – the SNP can offer no certainty. Scots across the country want to know what they can expect in a separate Scotland, but all they’re getting from Alex Salmond is spin and speculation.
“This is just more evidence that Alex Salmond knows he’s lost the independence question and that’s why he wants a second question – in spite of his party, his deputy, the chair and director of his independence campaign.
“That isn’t a good enough reason. We are not having a referendum to save Alex Salmond’s face. We are having one to decide whether or not Scotland is part of the UK. We need to settle this now in a clear, simple question: are we in or are we out?”
A spokesperson for Bruce Crawford, the Scottish Government’s Secretary for Parliamentary Business, said: “This is a ridiculous intervention from Margaret Curran, but sadly in line with her party’s thinking on Scotland. The fact that she wants the Conservative-led Treasury to have a say on Scotland’s finances post-independence says it all and simply underlines how out of touch Labour are by backing the Tory-led anti-independence campaign to the hilt.
“Planning for independence is well underway, and the structure of the state will be fully outlined in the Scottish Government’s white paper published next year.”
In a letter sent to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and circulated to other opposition leaders, Salmond said arrangements would be identical to those for other referendums in the UK under the Westminster Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The Electoral Commission will be asked to advise on and test the question, or questions, in the referendum, which will be formulated following the outcome of Your Scotland Your Referendum, the consultation document published by the Scottish Government earlier this year.
Salmond writes: “The arrangements for Scotland’s referendum will be fair and democratic. They will match those used for all other referendums in the UK (held under Westminster legislation), where the Government proposes the question or questions, the Electoral Commission provides independent advice on the question or questions, and Parliament makes a final decision. In this case it will be for the Scottish Parliament to decide.
“Both the current and previous UK Governments have endorsed this division of responsibilities respectively in response to, and in evidence to, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution’s inquiry into referendums in the UK, published in April 2010. This position has also been clearly and repeatedly supported by the Electoral Commission itself.
“Therefore to depart from this foundation in the case of the Scottish referendum would put you at odds with your Westminster colleagues, in conflict with what you had previously asked for and in defiance of the elected mandate which gave our Parliament the authority to proceed with the referendum.
“Let me repeat. The referendum question is subject to a consultation to which we have had over 21,000 responses. The Electoral Commission will assume the role of advising on and testing of the question or questions – including the recommendation of any changes. This is exactly as the three anti-independence parties have called for previously.
“Finally, the process will be identical to that followed in all UK referendums under the Westminster legislation provided for in The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.”