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The Pound in their pockets could determine the outcome

Looking forward to this year’s independence referendum, it seems that the priorities of the chattering classes are very different to those of many ordinary voters. A report from ScotCen Social Research has found that issues which seem to excite debate on radio television and in the newspapers (things such as what currency Scotland should have and whether this country will automatically be a member of the European Union or not) come well down the list of priorities. Instead, people want to make their minds up based on whether or not they would be better off in an independent country.

Prof John Curtice 'Economic and financial consequences' important to voters

Prof John Curtice
‘Economic and financial consequences’ important to voters

Until now, most polls have fairly consistently shown that around 30% of Scots voters actively support independence. However, the survey found that just over half – 52% – would support a breakup of the union if that meant they were £500 better off. But on the other hand, if people thought they were going to be £500 worse off, then support for independence dropped to just 15% – indeed 72% would actively oppose such a move.

However, this latest survey of 1,497 people was taken between July and October last year – that’s before the Scottish Government published its blueprint for independence. At that time, some 64% of those surveyed where “unsure” of what would happen if Scotland became independent. Only 30% were confident that they knew.

In a statement, Prof John Curtice, who acted as a consultant on this research project, said that “many of the issues that preoccupied those campaigning for and against independence are apparently of peripheral interest to voters. Voters want to hear about the economic and financial consequences of the choice they make, and it is on the outcome of that debate that the result of the referendum is likely to turn.”

Would Scotland be able to negotiate EU membership ‘from within’?

The European Union – and Scotland’s future place within it – is an issue that simply will not go away.

William Hague  Scotland would have 'to re-apply' for EU membership

William Hague
Scotland would have ‘to re-apply’ for EU membership

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has been in Glasgow where he weighed into the argument with a claim that an independent Scottish state might not be able to negotiate ‘from within’ as promised by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Indeed, he went as far as to claim that Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership if the country votes ‘Yes’ later this year; and it may not be able to join under the same terms of membership as the UK currently enjoys.

Speaking of BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Hague said that, even if the European negotiations were “constructively-minded”, it would still be a complicated process involving the agreement of all 28 EU member states. He went to claim that Scotland would be obliged to join the Euro single currency, which the Scottish government had said it would not do.

His was not the first voice to question the White Paper’s claims on Europe this year. Writing in ‘Policy Review’, the enigmatically named Schadenfreude wrote: “in a debate in January, in the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked the rhetorical question: ‘Which European Union country would not want to have Scotland as a member?’ She would have done well to check with Rome, Brussels and Madrid.”

Nicola Sturgeon London's plans for a referendum 'the only real risk'

Nicola Sturgeon
London’s plans for a referendum
‘the only real risk’

The author went on to point out that Italy, Belgium and Spain would not welcome the prospect of being asked to agree to European Union membership of a country that had split from its former partners. The example, he/she wrote, would be “highly contagious”, pointing out that the central governments in all three are facing at least some calls for independence from significant parts of these countries – the North of Italy, Catalonian and the Flemish area of Belgium.

The SNP Government clearly doesn’t see things like this. The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has consistently argued that the White Paper had clearly set out the way in which Scotland could continue EU membership. This states that, in the event of a ‘Yes’ in the autumn, membership would be negotiated ‘from within’ ahead of its planned “independence day”, in March 2016.

She’s added that the UK government’s EU referendum, proposed for 2017, posed the only real risk to Scotland’s status in the EU. As she explained on Good Morning Scotland, “the fact of the matter is that, if Scotland votes ‘No’ and we don’t become independent, there is absolutely no guarantee at all that we would stay within the European Union. We could find ourselves taken out of it against our will.”

But William Hague dismissed this, insisting that what the government in London was trying to achieve by 2017 was “a reformed EU that we can recommend the whole of the UK stays in.” He added that the plans to hold a referendum on EU membership, if the Conservatives won next year’s UK general election, were not an immediate threat. “Scotland in effect is going to have two referendums on whether to leave the EU and one of them is in September,” he said.

‘Cast Iron Guarantee’

The question of the UK’s considerable debt has been part of the ongoing debate in the lead up to the Independence Referendum later this year.

The White Paper says that  Scotland will pay its share

The White Paper says that
Scotland will pay its share

In its White Paper, the Scottish Government said that, if Scots vote for independence, then Scotland would be liable for a portion of the current national debt – exactly how much to be the subject of negotiation. It also may depend on whether the rest of the UK agree to let Scotland become part of a Sterling Zone; ministers in Edinburgh have already warned that an independent Scotland may not accept this liability so if Whitehall refuses to accept joint control of the pound.

Now, the Treasury has issued what it calls a “cast-iron guarantee” to honour UK government debt “in all circumstances” – currently standing at £1.4 trillion – issued up to the date of the referendum on Scottish independence. It said the move was aimed at removing the risk of default from any debt-sharing dispute between Scotland and the rest of the UK. However, it went on to stress that an independent Scotland would still be expected to pay its “fair share”.

Alex Salmond MSP Blames the London Government for any uncertainty

Alex Salmond MSP
Blames the London Government for any uncertainty

Reacting to tne news, the First Minister, Alex Salmond, claimed that it put Scotland in “an extremely strong negotiating position to win a fair deal”. He added that sharing a currency, post-independence would be “common sense”.

By contracts, the former chancellor and leader of Better Together, Alistair Darling, insisted that the pound “is a monetary system underwritten entirely by the UK government. It’s not an asset to be shared like the CD collection after a divorce”. He added that markets had been “…unnerved by Alex Salmond’s threats. He is playing with fire with his irresponsible threats to default on Scotland’s debts if he doesn’t get his way on currency.” Nonetheless, he concluded today’s announcement was a “sensible move” by the Treasury.

Analysts believe that the announcement was made because the markets were becoming a little jittery over the status of the debt. They argue that, if left ambiguous, the UK’s cost of borrowing might be pushed up. But Mr Salmond puts any blame for such uncertainty squarely on the Westminster government’s refusal to discuss the terms of independence ahead of the referendum.

Little support for Photo ID

A report from the Electoral Commission has said that voters should have to show some form of photo ID at polling stations in Great Britain. The aim, it says, would be to lessen the risk of fraud. It’s suggest that the reform should be based the current system in the Northern Ireland, where voters already need photo ID. If approved, then the changes would come into force in time for the local government and European Parliament elections in 2019.

Jenny Watson Electoral Commission (Picture from Vimeo)

Jenny Watson
Electoral Commission
(Picture from Vimeo)

Jenny Watson, who chairs the Commission, expected most voters to use a passport, driving licence or even a public transport photocard to prove who they were – and, if they didn’t have any of these documents, they could request a free ‘elections ID card’.

She acknowledged that proven cases of electoral fraud were rare but added that “when it is committed, the perpetrators tend to be candidates or their supporters. Voters are the victims and sustained action is needed now to prevent fraud from taking place.”

Northern Ireland has had a requirement on voters to produce some proof of identity before casting their ballot since 1985. But this could simply have included a utility bill or some other document containing both name and address.

The Commission pointed out that this system had been “considered to be inadequate because of the ease with which identity documents could be falsified.” As a result, the rules were changed in 2003 so that voters had to produce photo, rather than just general, ID. Since then, there have been no reported cases of voter impersonation in Northern Ireland and there was “little evidence of voters being turned away from the polling station for presenting an incorrect form of identification.”

Katie Ghose Electoral Reform Society

Katie Ghose
Electoral Reform Society

However, the proposals have been questioned by several organisations. Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, insisted that, at a time when people were increasingly turning away from politics, “it’s important that we do not put up new barriers to participation. Of course it is vital to tackle electoral fraud, but we have to be sure that by doing so we are not inadvertently contributing to the problem of voter disengagement.

“We should be doing everything we can to get people on the register and into the polling station.” She added. “We need to be thinking about how to make it easier for people to register to vote: for instance, we could offer the opportunity to register when people have other dealings with their local authority, or even at the polling station itself. And we need to be tackling voter disengagement by introducing much-needed reforms like local proportional representation and votes at 16.”

No2ID’s Guy Herbert argued that it would be “absurd for a government that scrapped the Home Office’s centralised ID scheme to make presenting ID a requirement to vote. Does this quango get to change the face of our society? The idea is all cost and very little benefit. Holding official identity documents would become a requirement for democratic participation, registration effectively compulsory.”

‘Better Together’ – a negative campaign so far

There have been grumblings amongst pro-Union supporters for some months now. However, it’s taken one of the leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign to spell it out. If we’re going to have a proper debate on Scotland’s future, then the ‘No’ campaign has to set out in detail what a vote for them would mean for Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

In a speech in St Andrews, Nicola Sturgeon challenged the ‘Better Together’ campaign to set out its vision of Scotland after a ‘No’ vote. She argued that the Scottish Government had provided “a compelling case for independence” in its ‘Scotland’s Future’ white paper and claimed that unionists had to respond with a vision of their own.

“The referendum is not a choice between change and no change,” she said. “It is about choosing the kind of change we want for Scotland and who we want to be in the driving seat of it, ourselves, or Westminster. It is a choice between two futures. That means that the consequences of both a Yes vote and No vote need to be considered carefully. And that means both the Yes and the No campaigns have an obligation to inform.

“Those of us on the Yes side take that responsibility seriously. In November, the Scottish Government published the independence white paper, Scotland’s Future, setting out the practicalities and opportunities of what will happen if Scotland votes Yes. I believe it sets out a compelling case for independence. It gives robust, credible and common sense answers to the legitimate questions that people have. I am happy to let you – the Scottish people – be the judge of it.

“But to make an informed choice between these two futures, you also need to know what a No vote will mean for Scotland. Now, as we enter this next, vital phase of the campaign, it is time for the No campaign to spell that out in detail to allow you to compare and contrast the competing visions for the future of Scotland and make your own minds up.”

Sir Tom Hunter Voters 'detered' by negative tone (Picture: from Vimeo)

Sir Tom Hunter
Voters ‘detered’ by negative tone
(Picture: from Vimeo)

A spokesman for Better Together however insisted that the SNP’s “White Paper manifesto for breaking up the UK was nothing more than a wish list without a price list. Rather than facing up to the consequences of breaking up the UK, the nationalists promise us the sun would shine brighter everyday if only we were independent. The idea that the White Paper was compelling is, frankly, laughable.

“There is a strong positive case for Scotland remaining part of the UK. Today we have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish Parliament with responsibility for schools, hospitals and childcare, and we benefit from being part of the larger UK. Why would we want to trade the strength and security of being part of the UK for the risk and uncertainty of independence?”

The problem is that too many people believe that the ‘No’ campaign has relied too much on the fear factor. They don’t appear to have the kind of vision which appeals to the hearts of voters – and this referendum will be decided as much on how people ‘feel’ with their hearts as with the evidence examined by their heads.

In an article in The Sunday Times, the entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter warned that the negative tone of the debate could even deter voters from taking part in the referendum. He was worried by a number of factors – not least that the fate of the Union could be decided by just a fraction of the Scottish population as there is no minimum threshold on the number of votes needed in the referendum on September 18.

“I’m concerned,” he said, “that there is no minimum turnout required. Most of us could stay in bed and 20,000 vote, but as long as you’ve got 10,001 votes it’s a Yes or a No. Not for a moment do I expect that to happen, but from a straw poll over the festive period I sense a general annoyance with a debate that is polarised, unproductive and lacking in ambition.

“I am undecided, principally because I simply don’t believe I have enough information to go on and many questions remain unanswered. Moreover, I’m not sure we’re asking the questions the public wants answers to. Equally, we need Alex Salmond and his team to address critical issues and questions to inform people who really are undecided.”

Growth double the forecast in March

In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has said the country is growing faster than any other major economy thanks to his policies. Britain, he claimed, would be back in the black within five years but the job of recovery was “not yet done” and money was still tight. As expected, millions would have to wait longer before they got a state pension, all to “keep track with life expectancy” something that would save future taxpayers £500bn.

The Chancellor says the Scottish Government budget will increase

The Chancellor says the Scottish Government budget will increase

In his 50-minute speech, Mr Osborne stressed that he wanted a “responsible recovery” and warned of “more difficult decisions” to come on spending. He acknowledged that the effects of the economic crash on family budgets were still being felt, but he insisted that the hard work of the British people was paying off and “we will not squander their efforts.” He insisted that “the plan is working – it is a long-term plan for a grown-up country. The job is not yet done but Britain is moving again – let’s keep going.”

The Chancellor had good economic news – the economy is expected to grow 1.4% this year – double the 0.6% predicted at the Budget in March. The Office for Budget Responsibility now predicts 2.4% growth next year up from its previous estimate of 1.8%. The level of borrowing has fallen more than forecast and forecasts for employment have been revised up. However, Government Departments in Whitehall can expect to face a further series of cuts over the next three years – £1bn in total.

The planned 2p rise in fuel duty scrapped

The planned 2p rise in fuel duty scrapped

As expected, Mr Osborne announced that offshore wind farms would receive Government support instead of onshore ones and he also announced plans to invest £375bn in energy, transport, communications, and water projects. He also announced that next year’s planned rise of 2p a litre for fuel would be scrapped

For Scotland, the Chancellor said that the government’s budget here would increase by £308m over the next two years. Unlike departments South of the Border, those run by Holyrood would face cuts of less than 0.2%. However, the Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney, argued the increase failed to make up for earlier cuts and said that the Autumn Statement showed the “damaging economic consequences” of remaining within the UK.

FSB welcomed some of the measures

FSB welcomed some of the measures

The reaction of business was positive. Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish policy convenor, said that Scotland’s small businesses would welcome many of the measures outlined this morning by the Chancellor. “By refusing to increase fuel duty,” he said, “he has recognised the big impact the price at the pumps has on independent enterprise and the economies of remote communities. “By abolishing employers’ National Insurance Contributions for employees under the age of 21, the UK government will give both firms and young people’s job prospects a boost. To have the maximum impact in Scotland, we must see our education system producing more young people with the right skills for the modern workplace. We must also ensure that we tackle the other barriers to small businesses recruiting.”

By contrast, Grahame Smith, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) General Secretary said there was “nothing today’s statement to help embed the recovery and create decent jobs. While recent growth is largely attributable to consumer spending, real wages continue to fall at rate unprecedented in modern times. Yet the Chancellor brazenly adopted a triumphalist tone just as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) revised down its forecast for wages growth. He continues to ignore the glaring disconnect between growth and living standards.

Grahame Smith STUC Nothing to embed recovery and create jobs

Grahame Smith STUC
Nothing to embed recovery and create jobs

“Business investment,” he added, “is contributing very little to growth and remains well below pre-recession levels. Net trade made a negative contribution to growth over the last quarter. This is not the ‘rebalancing’ promised by the Chancellor in 2010. Additional departmental cuts were announced although the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and others have questioned whether it will even be possible to implement previously announced cuts.”

Philip Hogg, Chief Executive of industry body Homes for Scotland, acknowledged that the Chancellor had drawn attention “to the weakness of housing supply and measures being implemented to address supply-side constraints such as the issuing of £1bn in loans to unblock large house developments. Builders face the same difficulties throughout the UK so we look forward to learning whether this loan facility applies in Scotland or, if not, what consequential funding is to be received north of the border. With yesterday’s Scottish housing statistics showing continuing falls in output and demonstrating the fragility of any market recovery, we hope that councils will look to take every opportunity to support the delivery of new homes in their areas.”

And in his first thoughts on the Autumn Statement, Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, warned that the Chancellor’s optimism about the recovery “won’t be shared by the families struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, or the 4,574 children who’ll face homelessness this Christmas in Scotland. Beyond Westminster, thousands of people will be wondering if today’s announcements mean that their family faces yet another cut to the money they have to live on.”

The White Paper – a substantial document

So now we know – or at least those who are willing to wade through 670 pages of text will know – what the SNP Government believes the benefits of independence will be. There are promises of better childcare and education along with a reformed, fairer tax system.

Scots would be better off under independence, says Alex Salmond

Scots would be better off under independence, says Alex Salmond

In his presentation of this ‘blueprint’ for Scotland’s future, First Minister, Alex Salmond, claimed that each Scot would be £600 better off after a split from the UK. As he’s claimed elsewhere, he repeated that Scotland’s public finances were “healthier than those of the UK as a whole”. The paper insists there would be “no requirement for an independent Scotland to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending.” By contrast, the Treasury’s analysis suggests that independence could cost the average Scot £1,000 in tax.

The document identifies “three overriding reasons” for Scotland to leave the UK by creating a more democratic, prosperous and fair state. In Mr Salmond’s view, his vision is “of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations. However, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better. We know we have the people, the skills and resources to make Scotland a more successful country. What we need now are the economic tools and powers to build a more competitive, dynamic economy and create more jobs. This guide contains policies which offer nothing less than a revolution in employment and social policy for Scotland, with a transformational change in childcare at the heart of those plans.

“Our proposals,” he added, “will make it far easier for parents to balance work and family life, and will allow many more people, especially women, to move into the workforce, fostering economic growth and helping to boost revenues – which will in itself help pay for the policy. With these policies, we can begin the job of undoing the damage caused by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.”

But will Scotland be able to keep the pound?

But will Scotland be able to keep the pound?

In a policy that has been widely discussed, the paper discusses plans to keep the pound in a currency union with the Bank of England. It states that the pound “is Scotland’s currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK’s” adding that an independent Scotland would also make a “substantial contribution” to a “sterling zone”. However, opponents have stated several times that there was no guarantee that the rest of the UK would accept such an arrangement.

Under the proposals, Scottish Independence Day would be March 24, 2016, assuming the people of Scotland vote for independence in a referendum next year. This date was chosen for historical reasons (as many of the dates in the recent past) because it was on March 24, 1707, that the Act of Union, which joined the parliaments of England and Scotland, was signed.

Blair Jenkins, chief executive of ‘Yes Scotland’ said that the White Paper addressed “the questions and concerns that matter to the people who live and work in Scotland, from childcare to how the country will be rid of Trident and the nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is a very informative and easy-to-understand guide and it will open a new dimension in the debate about Scotland’s future and the choice we face next September over the opportunity to make our own decisions according to our own needs, priorities and aspirations or sticking with a Westminster system that is simply not working for Scotland.”

Alistair Darling Who would set mortgage rates?

Alistair Darling
Who would set mortgage rates?

But the leader of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, the former chancellor, Alistair Darling, accused Mr Salmond of asking people to buy a “one-way ticket to a very uncertain destination”. He added that the SNP Government had “ducked the big questions like on currency: how can we guarantee to keep the pound and if we don’t what currency will we use, will we have our own or will we join the Euro? Debt, defence, welfare, pensions: they haven’t answered any of those questions and you would have thought that at this time we would get the answers we are entitled to.”

He asked what currency Scotland would use and who would set mortgage rates. He also asked who would pay pensions and benefits in future, adding that the paper provided no clear answers. “It is a fantasy,” he argued, “to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The White Paper is a work of fiction. It is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions. Instead of a credible and costed plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them.”

In the view of Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, today’s White Paper contained no answers, only assertions, to key questions over currency, pensions or the cost of independence. “Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little,” he said. “This was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said that the white paper “doesn’t really answer the big questions around currency, fiscal sustainability and Europe, just to take three of the major issues”.

However, Alex Salmond insisted that Scotland’s future was now in Scotland’s hands “It won’t be decided by me,” he said. “It won’t be decided by our opponents. It won’t be decided by the media. It will be decided by the people.”

Ringing the changes at Westminster

Michael Moore must be thinking today that politics can be brutal. As Scottish Secretary, he thought he’d done the job “pretty effectively” – but all he gets is the thanks of his party leader and the long walk to the back benches, the only cabinet minister on the Lib Dem side of the coalition to lose his job. He is replaced by the party’s former chief whip, Alistair Carmichael. Understandably, he’s “very disappointed” at the decision but has the grace to wish his successor well.

Michael Moore Former Scottish Secretary

Michael Moore
Former Scottish Secretary

The reasons for the change are explained in the letter from Nick Clegg. In it, he praises the MP for not only having “successfully piloted through legislation to enable Scotland to take a major step towards the party’s long held goal of Home Rule, but you have also ensured that the referendum next year will give the Scottish people a clear and decisive question on which to cast their vote.

“It should be recognised that you secured both the Scotland Act and the Edinburgh Agreement in the context of a majority SNP government at Holyrood, and against a backdrop of an external political narrative that often suggested the legislation would fail and a referendum agreement could not be secured.”

Alistair Carmichael MP The new Scottish Secretary

Alistair Carmichael MP
The new Scottish Secretary

But he went on to say that he believed that the party and indeed the coalition now needed “to draw on different experience in the final year running up to the referendum itself and I am keen that just as we have benefited from your formidable skills over the past three years that we take advantage of other experience within our ranks during this period.” Mr Moore was appointed Scottish Secretary three years ago.

After the news broke, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted her “best wishes” to Mr Moore. “A tough opponent but always pleasant,” she said. “He can take pride in the achievement of the Edinburgh Agreement.” This was the deal, reached exactly a year ago, which set out terms for next year’s independence referendum. It was signed with much fanfare by both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, in Edinburgh.

Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement last year

Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement last year

The exact reasons for Mr Moore’s dismissal aren’t clear at the moment. However, the BBC’s The BBC’s John Pienaar told Radio 5Live that Mr Carmichael was very popular amongst other MPs and was considered to have “a louder voice and bigger boots” than his predecessor.

The change takes place on a day when the Coalition’s leaders are ringing the changes in their teams. David Cameron, a prime minister who is admittedly reluctant to make reshuffles, is trying to broaden the appeal of the Conservative party. In particular, this means offering a higher profile to women and MPs from Northern England. For example, Esther McVey, MP in the marginal Wirral West seat, has been appointed the new employment minister.

Ed Miliband, Labour leader, will also change his shadow cabinet. In anticipation of this, Anne McGuire has already announced that, after five years as first the minister, then the shadow minister for the disabled, it was time to allow someone else to take on the role. The MP for Stirling said she would continue campaigning against an “unprecedented attack” on the disabled by the Government and parts of the media as a backbencher and co-chair of the all-party disability group.

Everyone has a stake in next year’s referendum

The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, has urged people in other parts of the UK to speak up for the Union. With the referendum on Scottish independence less than a year away, she said that everyone had a stake in the future of Britain, adding that First Minister, Alex Salmond, did not speak for most Scots and claiming that the majority were against independence.

Ruth Davidson MSP Scottish Conservative Leader

Ruth Davidson MSP
Scottish Conservative Leader

Speaking at the Conservative conference in Manchester, she pointed out that the SNP administration in Edinburgh had made £32bn of uncosted promises, including reversing UK benefit reforms and boosting overseas aid. She drew attention to the opinion polls which consistently showed that the majority of Scots were against independence. Warning against complacency, she stressed that in the months ahead “we have a lot of work to do to hammer home to people just how much Scotland gains from being part of the UK and how much the United Kingdom benefits from Scotland as a member.

“I know that many of you living in other parts of the UK won’t have a vote – but we all have a stake in the result, and we can all play a part in securing our country for the future,” she added

Ms Davidson reminded the conference about what happened in Canada in 1995. There was an independence referendum in Quebec. “The secessionists were ahead until the day itself,” she said. There was just a 1% margin of victory. And the single fact credited with making the difference between staying and going, between uniting the country or dividing the nation – was that the rest of Canada said, ‘we want you to stay’.”

She went of to say that when Alex Salmond took to the airwaves, “saying things designed to get right up your nose, know that he’s doing it on purpose, and that he doesn’t speak for the majority of Scots. Know too, that while this is the most important decision in Scotland’s history – it also affects each and every one you, no matter where you live.”

The Referendum will ask the single question – Should Scotland be an independent country?

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.

John McCormick Electoral Commissioner

John McCormick
Electoral Commissioner

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.”