An interim report from the Electoral Commission suggests preparations for next year’s independence referendum are going well but it raises some concerns. The report was published days after the Scottish Parliament accepted the general principles of the Referendum Bill – this sets out the framework under which the poll will be held and lowers the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds. However, one of the questions raised by the Commission is what happens next, suggesting that the governments in Holyrood and Westminster need to clarify what will happen after the decision is taken next year.
It says: “Although we would not expect the terms of independence to be agreed before the vote, clarity about how the terms of independence will be decided would help voters understand how competing claims made by campaigners before the referendum would be resolved. We believe this is important for voters. We therefore recommended that the Scottish and UK governments clarify what process would follow the referendum in sufficient detail so as to inform people what would happen if most voters voted Yes or if most voters voted No.”
The Commission would like to see a joint statement agreed between the two Governments by December 20 to coincide with the expected Royal Assent to the Bill.
Speaking to BBC Scotland, the Electoral Commissioner, John McCormick, added that there had to be clarity on how new Westminster legislation on lobbying, campaigning and trade unions could affect campaigns. He said that voters need to have absolute confidence in the result. “There must be no doubt that the referendum was fair and transparent and there were no barriers to voters or campaigners taking part,” he explained. “The rules and the plans for delivering the poll across Scotland underpin the whole referendum and we are encouraged by the progress we have found… These are good foundations to build on,” he added, “but there is still work to do. We will continue to monitor progress and will speak up if we have any concerns.”