Another letter from Nicola...
Earlier today the Electoral Commission published its report on the referendum question and campaign spending limits.
The Scottish Government is accepting the recommendations in full. So - subject to the agreement of Parliament - the question on the ballot paper in 2014 will be: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Yes or No.
It’s a minor tweak to the question we had proposed – and is poles apart from what the No campaign wanted. Alistair Darling wanted a question asking “if you want to remain part of the United Kingdom”. Others pushed the idea of asking about a “separate” Scotland (as the Social Attitudes Survey still does). That’s gone too.
We are left with a simple 6-word question, approved by the Electoral Commission, which gives the people of Scotland the opportunity to make a clear and informed decision on our constitutional future.
Seems reasonable to me, even if some are calling it a humiliating defeat for Alex Salmond. Doubtless Lamont will repeat that in the fullness of time, when they let her out of the bunker.
I've never objected to the Electoral Commission giving its opinion on the question or the conduct of the referendum. I think, though, that the actual referendum, the counting, etc, should be overseen by a more neutral body, something international with no axe to grind in either direction...the UN perhaps, sending in observers to do spot checks, as they do in third world countries.
I'm happy too with the amount of money that can be spent based on the results of the last election. It is far more than the government had proposed; a sum I thought was a little short. It allows the SNP to spend £1.344m: Labour £834,000. The Tories will be allowed £396,000, the Lib Dems £201,000 and the Greens £150,000.
The SNP has the money to spend thanks to two large bequests and thousands of smaller donations. I'm wondering where the other parties will raise their funds, given the parlous state of their finances. From rich Tories in England, I suspect.
I'm pleased too that the Electoral Commission has proposed that, in order that the referendum be fair, electors must know what they are voting for. So the YES campaign must publish details of what they expect an independent Scotland to look like.
The down side for the UK is that they must say what will happen if there is a YES vote; and what will happen if there is a NO vote. What would our future be like in the UK. In fact why they think we are better together.
So the end of the vague promises of Jam Tomorrow proposed by both Cameron, and his Scottish lieutenant Ruth.
Both sides must be honest and serious about their proposals. This may be interesting because Cameron has completely ruled out any pre-negotiation with the Scottish government, while the Scottish government is quite happy to put its cards on the table. So we will have no idea what their position on many issues will be...
Having for some time now badgered the Scottish government about accepting the suggestions of the Electoral Commission, the UK government now needs to do the same thing.