Scottish independence: MSPs pass Scottish referendum bill

From Democracy Live: MSPs debated the legislation, before it was passed by parliament

Legislation to hold the Scottish independence referendum has been passed unanimously by the Holyrood parliament.

The Scottish government's bill sets out the referendum rules, such as the question and campaign spending limits.

On 18 September 2014, voters will be asked the yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill was passed less than two weeks before the SNP administration publishes its detailed case for independence.

It will come in the form of a white paper, on 26 November.

During a debate before MSPs approved the legislation, Deputy Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said discussion in the months ahead would be "passionate, at times heated", but urged all politicians to keep the quality high by presenting informed and constructive arguments to voters.

She said: "I think we can be proud that we're passing legislation that will put Scotland's future into Scotland's hands - I hope that the people of Scotland will seize that opportunity, seize that future, seize that prospect of a better Scotland with a resounding 'Yes' vote.

Opponents of independence also backed the legislation.

Labour MSP Drew Smith, said: "Scottish Labour welcomes the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill and we will be voting 'Yes' at decision time this afternoon - after that, I fear the consensus may break down again somewhat."

Conservative MSP Baroness Goldie added: "I think the bill does deliver a workable mechanism for 18 September 2014 and I confidently expect Scotland then to reject, overwhelmingly, separation from the rest of the United Kingdom."

And, looking ahead to the referendum itself, Tavish Scott, from the Liberal Democrats, told parliament: "It will be our responsibility, whatever that result, to work constructively together on the future of our nation."

Arrangements for holding the referendum have already been negotiated and agreed in advance by the Scottish and UK governments, under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, which was signed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

But the agreements were required to be turned into a law by the Scottish Parliament.

The referendum bill also ensures that:

  • The referendum itself is preceded by a 16-week formal campaign period, during which limits will apply to the amount of money registered campaigners can spend, to ensure a level playing field for both sides of the debate.
  • The vote is overseen by the independent Electoral Commission watchdog, which is responsible for regulating campaign rules and informing the public about the referendum.
  • The ballot is conducted under the direction of a "chief counting officer", who will be responsible for appointing local counting officers.

The UK government agreed to give temporary powers to Holyrood to hold a legal referendum, under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act - the piece of legislation which set up the Scottish Parliament.

This is because constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster.

Separate legislation allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum has already been passed by MSPs.

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