Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Holyrood backs referendum shut down

The Scottish Parliament has formally backed plans go into recess ahead of next year's independence referendum.

MSPs voted to amend their normal timetable after the Scottish government said there would be restrictions on what business could be discussed in the four weeks before the referendum.

The change was opposed by Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but was passed by 65 votes to 51.

MSPs will now take the unusual step of meeting in August of next year.

The new parliamentary timetable had been agreed by the SNP, Scottish Greens and independent members.

The changes will mean recess beginning next July, with MSPs returning for three weeks in August before leaving Holyrood for the 28 days before the referendum, which will be held on 18 September 2014.

'Wild suggestions'

The Scottish government said the timetable change would result in members sitting for the same number of weeks.

The shut down would also coincide with restrictions on what government and public bodies could say ahead of the vote.

It has already been agreed that the campaign period for the referendum would total 16 weeks.

Minister for Parliamentary Business Joe Fitzpatrick told Holyrood: "To comply with the spirit of both the Edinburgh Agreement and schedule four of the Referendum Bill it is clear that the Parliament cannot operate as normal in the 28-day period. Much of what could be debated and scrutinised would be heavily restricted.

"This will, contrary to the wild suggestions of some, ensure that we maintain the time available for this parliament to conduct business without restriction. So while others wish to waste parliamentary time, we wish to protect it.

"The cat is well and truly out of the bag and now we know the real reason for the feigned outrage of the unholy Labour, Tory and Liberal alliance. Far from being concerned about parliamentary procedure, they have been found out for simply seeking to grant themselves an extra week's holiday. They really should be ashamed of themselves."

Labour business manager Paul Martin had suggested slimming the break down to just one week before the referendum.

"We've been very clear this parliament should be open for business as usual," he said.

'Underhand tactic'

Scottish Liberal Democrat business manager Alison McInnes said: "I've long suspected that the SNP government views the Scottish Parliament as an inconvenience and a hindrance. Using their votes to bulldoze through these changes confirms their contempt for Scotland's Parliament.

"Preventing any parliamentary scrutiny in the crucial month ahead of the referendum shows the SNP MSPs are prepared to go to any lengths to try to secure a yes vote."

Scottish Conservative Chief Whip John Lamont added: "This is yet another underhand tactic by the SNP in their desperation to win any advantage possible in the referendum campaign.

"Alex Salmond has shown a blatant disregard for democracy and contempt for the people of Scotland by pushing through his proposal to change the Parliament's recess dates."

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