Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Expert Ron Gould rejects two-question referendum

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Media captionRon Gould looked at what went wrong in the 2007 election counting process

An elections expert who reviewed the 2007 Holyrood voting shambles believes a two-question referendum on Scotland's future would "muddy the waters".

Ron Gould said a single question would deliver a clearer outcome.

He added that electors had been "treated as an afterthought" in 2007 and he wanted to avoid the same thing happening in an independence vote.

The Scottish government is open to the idea of including a second question on further devolution.

Mr Gould, who is a former assistant chief electoral officer of Canada and electoral administration expert, told the BBC a two-question ballot would make the result "very difficult to determine".

He went on to suggest holding two separate referendums.

The consultant had also said he was "amazed" at the lack of discussion about what a clear majority would be.

Mr Gould said it was "essential" that had to be agreed in advance to avoid disputes after the vote.

The elections consultant told BBC Scotland: "The last thing you want to do is to end up with a referendum where there is conflict as to whether that referendum was truly the expression of the will of the Scottish people.

"One question, suitably tested and unambiguous, can do this - assuming that you, ahead of time, determine what constitutes a clear majority.

"Two questions will muddy the waters, in my opinion."

SNP minister Stewart Stevenson said that the Scottish government had always made it clear that it would consider a two-question referendum.

He added: "The Scottish people are a very sophisticated electorate. We asked them two questions in 1998 when we established the Scottish Parliament.

"I don't think that is beyond the capability of the Scottish people."

Mr Gould's comments were made public at the same time as former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish argued in favour of a so-called "devo-max" option being included on the ballot paper.

Mr McLeish argued that there were "compelling reasons for a second question and a bigger choice for Scots".

Writing in Holyrood magazine , Mr McLeish said that Scots were "not inspired by the current alternatives" of independence or the status quo, adding: "Much polling suggests that the idea of more devolution within the union is a sensible idea, despite the lack, so far, of a completely worked-out alternative."

Mr McLeish also said: "There seems little point in waking up the day after the referendum and realising we are absolutely no further forward than we are today about the future of the country, except to say that independence is defeated."

Rejected ballots

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the counting process was besieged by delays and saw some 140,000 ballot papers rejected.

Mr Gould headed an Electoral Commission-backed inquiry into what went wrong.

He concluded that there should be separate election days for Holyrood and local councils and that future elections should consider the voter above all else.

In his report, Mr Gould found strong evidence that combining the Scottish parliamentary ballot papers on one sheet was primarily responsible for the high levels of rejected ballot papers.

The Scottish government has said it wants to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in autumn 2014.

The SNP administration is currently conducting a consultation into the matter. The UK government also held a consultation which produced more than 2,000 responses.