Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Referendum talks - one question, do you agree?

There are several versions of Salmond being ready to give up on a second referendum question in the papers today, mostly spun from a vague answer the First Minister gave to a question from the LA Times.

Below is a full version in the Daily Record story I filed, which was sourced far away from the pages of the LA Times.

In short the referendum is going to be one question -  something the Westminster-Holyrood talks on power transfer have been inching towards since Nicola Sturgeon took over for the SNP.

The Electoral Commission will rule on the wording provided by the Scottish Government - the crucial phrasing "do you agree" that Scotland should be independent is likely to be used. Cameron doesn't think the outcome will be greatly affected by the question.

People aged 16 to 18 will have the vote -  if it is technically possible to get them on the electoral roll in time for 2014. Westminster doesn't believe it is and is leaving the task to Holyrood. Whitehall data and other polling  shows that  Scottish teenagers coming of voting age, like the rest of the population, are against independence by a margin of two to one.

Michael Moore is on stage today at the Lib Dem conference. He may make reference to the talks but both sides have been playing their cards close to their chests.

The concessions allow Salmond to proclaim that the referendum will be "made in Scotland" while the single question means Cameron can be satisfied  the matter will be resolved - one way or the other

Here's the story, for The Record

Alex Salmond is on the brink of agreeing to a one question referendum on Scottish Independence in the Autumn of 2014.

In a major concession to David Cameron the SNP leader has given up hope of obtaining his favoured two question ballot that would give voters the option of independence or a second choice of more powers for the Scottish parliament.

But Salmond has won the battle over the wording and timing of the vote.

The ballot paper is likely to ask people if they agree Scotland should become an independent nation.

Cameron has relaxed about the wording of the question after being assured by referendum experts that the word “agree” will not create a significant bias in favour of a yes vote

The Prime Minister is also willing to concede to a key SNP demand that Scotland’s 16 and 17 year old teenagers will be able to vote in the historic referendum.

The timing of the vote is also being left to Holyrood although the legal powers being granted by Westminster will lapse before the next Scottish election in 2016.

The deal paving the way for the vote is due to be signed off by the UK Prime Minister and the First Minister at a special meeting in late October

After talks between SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore yesterday both sides said that they were still some distance from agreement.

But The Record understands that when Alex Salmond and David Cameron meet in October they will be asked to sign off on a deal that will transfer legal powers for a referendum to Scotland - on condition that voters are asked a single question.

Cameron had drawn a line in the sand over the one question indy referendum, demanding that the poll give a decisive answer on Scotland’s future.

Salmond has been hedging his bets on a two-question ballot so that if he loses on independence he can claim that a majority in favour of more powers support him on a “journey” to home rule with full powers for the parliament.

Sturgeon and Moore are also ready to agree that the wording of the question will be drawn up by the UK Electoral Commission and will be subject to the approval of the Scottish parliament.

Westminster is willing to accept a form of question asking people if they agree that Scotland should become independent despite fears that it will add an element of bias to the outcome.

Experts on referendums have convinced Westminster Ministers that after a thorough two year campaign voters will be highly familiar with what they are being asked to decide on and the outcome will not be affected that much by how the question is framed.

The teenage vote is also being conceded by Westminster because polls show that like the general Scottish population young people are against independence by a margin of two to one.

Westminster civil servants believe that it will be technically difficult to get all people aged 16-18 onto the electoral roll in time for a 2014 poll. The task is being left to the Scottish government to organise.

In a joint statement after their hour long talks yesterday Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Secretary of State, Michael Moore said: “Substantial progress has been made, and at previous meetings, on the ground work for an agreement and in discussing the detail of individual issues. We now need to see these individual issues in totality, and have asked officials to put together a package over the next few days.

‘We will discuss again whether the proposed package has reached a form we are able to recommend the full agreement to the First Minister and the Prime Minister.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said last night: “This is Scotland’s referendum, and the arrangements for it should be made in Scotland, not dictated by Westminster. All of the relevant issues governing the referendum, including that of a second question – which has significant support amongst the public and civic society – must be determined in the interests of the people of Scotland, not in the narrow interests of any political party. That is the spirit in which the Scottish Government is approaching the discussions that are currently underway with the UK Government.”

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