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by Jenni Davidson
29 May 2019
Scottish Government publishes framework bill for future referendums

Scottish Government publishes framework bill for future referendums

People standing with a saltire and a union jack - Image credit: PA

The Scottish Government has published a bill that outlines the way that any future referendums in Scotland will be run, including a second independence referendum.

The bill sets out rules for voting and how campaigns should be conducted, such as who will be entitled to vote, what the voting and counting processes will be, controls of campaign spending and ensuring campaigns are independent of parliament and government.

The SNP claimed that by agreeing the process in advance, it would help to concentrate debate on the merits of a particular referendum when one is proposed.

According to the bill, rules for voting in referendums will be the same as for local government and Scottish Parliament elections, meaning that 16 and 17-years-olds and citizens from EU countries can vote.

However, in a statement to parliament, constitution secretary Mike Russell said he hoped the franchise would be extended in future to anyone of any nationality who is legally resident in Scotland.

The bill also gives the Scottish Government the power to choose a date, referendum period and the wording of a question – after consultation with the Electoral Commission – which would then be put before MSPs for approval.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins called the bill a “a Trojan horse for a wildcat indyref 2”, suggesting it was intended to be used for an independence referendum without the agreement of the UK Government.

Tomkins said: “In reality, this is Nicola Sturgeon laying the ground for a ‘wildcat’ second referendum on independence.

“The tabling of this legislation is merely another opportunity to allow the First Minister to talk about her pet obsession with the break-up of Britain.

“Under this bill, SNP ministers would have the power to set any referendum question, at any time, on any matter of their choosing. It’s a power grab on an industrial scale.

“It would be nationalist ministers – not the Scottish Parliament – who would set the question, pick the date, and determine the campaign period.

“It’s not about the democracy of letting people decide in a lawful referendum – it’s about the diktat of an independence-obsessed first minister.”

However, Russell confirmed that the Scottish Government would not hold a referendum on independence without a transfer of powers from Westminster.

He said: “The bill provides a legal framework for holding referendums on matters that are now, or in future, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

“The rules it sets out are of the highest standards and will ensure that the results are widely and internationally accepted.

“It brings Scotland into line with the UK, where there is already standing legislation for referenda through the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which Westminster passed in 2000.

“As the First Minister indicated in her statement, at a future date, we intend to negotiate with the UK Government for a section 30 order to put beyond doubt our competence to hold a referendum on independence.

“When the framework is used in those, or any other circumstances, a separate vote at a future date will allow members to consider the specific topic and approve the question.”

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