Scottish independence: Michael Moore issues warning over vote question

From Democracy Live: Scotland powers debate

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has warned that all parties should accept the findings of a watchdog scrutinising the referendum question.

He was speaking during a Commons debate on the section 30 order which handed Holyrood powers to run the 2014 vote.

Mr Moore said the SNP government would be held to account for how it responded to the Electoral Commission findings.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said the Scottish government "will listen" to the body's advice.

He added that the poll on Scotland's future would be "beyond reproach".

Both the Commons and the Lords are this week debating the section 30 order which will allow the Scottish Parliament to hold a legally binding independence referendum.

Coalition minister Mr Moore said that if the order was approved the Scottish government would be able to devise a bill setting out the wording of the question; the date of the referendum and the rules of the campaign.

He added that both the Westminster and Holyrood administrations had already agreed that the commission should review the question which the SNP would like to be: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

Alongside real substance - about the franchise, about campaign funding, about the question - there was a lingering note of regret. A feeling of loss.

The regret, the loss, of course, is that these substantive matters will not ultimately be determined in the Mother of Parliaments but by the younger, assertive offspring at Holyrood.

For, as Scottish Secretary Michael Moore acknowledged more than once, a transfer of power is just that. Once the power has shifted to Holyrood, it is MSPs who will determine the date of the referendum, the franchise, the question to be asked and the campaign finance.

MPs were exercised by all these issues.

Mr Moore then warned: "The Scottish government has committed to put before the Scottish Parliament its response to the Electoral Commission's recommendations.

"This means that the Scottish government will be held to account by the public and parliament alike for how it responds to that advice.

"In this case, all opposition leaders in the Scottish Parliament have stated their intention to abide by the Electoral Commission's judgment.

"To do otherwise would be a significant step, for which there would be a political price."

During the debate, the SNP's Mr Robertson came under pressure to endorse the conclusions of the commission, which is expected to report next month.

He said its views would be listened to but he refused to promise that its advice would be followed.

Mr Robertson told the chamber: "It [the referendum] will meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety - informed by consultation and independent expert advice, that includes the Electoral Commission.

Proposed question

The Scottish government wants to ask the electorate: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

The Electoral Commission is currently scrutinising the wording and will report its findings next month.

"It is in everybody's interest that this referendum proceeds to the highest standards possible."

In a note of unity, Mr Robertson went on to thank his political opponents for the efforts they had made on the referendum so far.

He praised Mr Moore, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Labour opposition as well as First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran said a referendum should draw a line under the issue of independence.

She told the House: "This is the opportunity that a referendum offers us to settle the question decisively once and for all. This is the fault line now in Scottish politics; you either support partnership with the United Kingdom or you support separation.

"What we need to do is settle that once and for all and then move away from the issue that keeps Alex Salmond awake at night to the concerns that keep our constituents awake at night."

The section 30 order, which was passed unopposed by MPs, now needs to be approved by the House of Lords on Wednesday and will then go before the Privy Council for final approval next month.

The Scottish government wants the independence referendum to be held in autumn 2014 and for a single Yes/No question on Scotland leaving the UK.

In addition it wants 16 and 17-year-olds to take part in the ballot.

The UK government has responsibility over constitutional issues, however, the section 30 order will give temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold the referendum.

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