Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Panel suggests referendum question

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Media captionScotland's future will be debated over the next two years

A panel of experts set up by Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems has come up with a question to be asked in the referendum on Scottish independence.

The main pro-union parties have accused the SNP of selecting a biased form of words with its preferred question.

The panel has suggested the words "Scotland should become an independent state", with voters being asked to "agree" or "disagree".

The SNP administration plans a referendum on independence in 2014.

The Electoral Commission, which will assess the proposed referendum question, has made it clear it will only consider a form of words composed by the relevant government.

First Minister Alex Salmond wants voters to be asked: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

The unionist-commissioned panel was chaired by Prof Stewart Sutherland, along with his colleagues Dr Matt Qvortrup and Ron Gould.

No advantage

It said the question should be "clear, understandable, and decisive", adding: "It should also be unbiased and fair, and seen to be so."

Prof Sutherland said: "My hope is that this clears the ground about the detail of the question and allows proper debate to be clearly focused on the future of Scotland."

The leaders of the main unionist parties have written to the first minister seeking his endorsement for the question.

Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont said: "The question has to be fair in order that the result properly reflects the will of the Scottish people and by endorsing the question put forward by the expert panel this ensures that no advantage can be gained from either side.

"I hope that we reach agreement with the first minister on this at the next meeting of the party leaders and move on to the real debate about our country's future."

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "Surely Alex Salmond will agree his referendum on separation must produce a clear result and that is precisely what the expert panel's simple, unbiased question was devised to deliver."

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, said: "This panel is the only independent expert panel that has been established to draft the question for the referendum."

A spokesperson for Bruce Crawford, the cabinet secretary for parliamentary business and government strategy, said the Scottish government would respond to the opposition leaders "in due course".

The spokesperson said: "A key point is that the panel's conclusions differ fundamentally from the views previously expressed by all three opposition parties.

"Significantly, there is no reference to the United Kingdom in this proposed question, unlike in the poll commissioned by the anti-independence Better Together campaign as recently as May, and in stark contrast to the statements of all the opposition parties.

"That is appropriate, because people understand that the Queen will be head of state of an independent Scotland, and therefore Scotland and England will be united kingdoms."

'Party-political wrangling'

Whether the ballot will be a straight choice between wanting an independent Scotland and the status quo, or whether voters also get the option of choosing further powers for Holyrood, has still to be decided.

The UK government and the main opposition parties at Holyrood do not want the choice for greater devolution included in the referendum, while the SNP administration has not ruled it out as an option.

Meanwhile, STUC union boss Grahame Smith said the debate about Scotland's future is too important to be left to the politicians alone.

He said: "Like many in Scotland's wider community, we are deeply concerned that the debate over process and party-political wrangling more generally, might strangle proper issue-led discussion."

The STUC has announced a series of public events to discuss the country's constitutional future. A number of day-long sessions have been organised for September and further events run by local organisations are planned for throughout the autumn.

The organisation is working alongside a range of bodies including the Scottish Poverty Alliance and the Church of Scotland to ensure key concerns such as reducing poverty, creating sustainable jobs and empowering communities are at the forefront of discussions about Scotland's future.

Mr Smith said: "We start from the assumption that the majority of Scots wish to see a more equal and socially just Scotland.

"We make no assumptions about the views of our membership on independence, the status quo or enhanced devolution. What we do know is that there is a vital need to discuss these issues and to enable our members and those in Scotland's communities to exchange ideas.

"Through their jobs, many of our members have expertise across the economy and public service, and it is these skills, along with those of community partners, that we hope to put to work to improve the tenor of the debate over coming months."

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