Scottish Independence: Unionist parties unveil alternative question for ballot

The unionist parties have unveiled their alternative question

The unionist parties have unveiled their alternative question

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AN expert panel set up by the Unionist parties today unveiled their alternative wording of the question for Scotland’s independence referendum.

They said voters should be presented with a statement on the ballot paper: “Scotland should become an independent state”, and asked to put an “X” against “I agree” or “I disagree”.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats set up the panel after claiming the SNP’s proposed wording for the question was biased.

The Nationalists want to ask: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

At first sight, there may not seem much difference between the two proposals, but the Unionists claim the SNP’s wording invites a positive response and is therefore unfair. Opting for a statement and the “I agree/I disagree” formula is seen as overcoming this concern.

A senior Unionist source said: “The two significant differences are it gets rid of the ‘Do you agree’ question and it says state rather than country. It’s also getting away from the Yes/No wording by using I agree/I disagree.

“The important thing is this is independent experts suggesting this way forward. It will give people confidence there is not some trickery.”

The panel – which was asked by the three opposition parties to produce a single question on Scottish independence – unveiled its proposal in Edinburgh today.

The members were former Edinburgh University principal Lord Sutherland, who chaired the royal commission which laid the foundation for free care for the elderly in Scotland; Dr Matt Qvortrup, a referendum expert and a senior lecturer at Cranfield University; and Ron Gould, the former assistant chief electoral officer of Canada who led the investigation into Scotland’s 2007 election fiasco.

But the independent Electoral Commission has already delivered a snub in advance of today’s publication of the expert panel’s recommendation. It made clear when the panel was set up that it would not offer a view on any proposal the experts came up with.

Commissioner John McCormick said: “It’s for the relevant government to propose a question. This should be independently and transparently assessed before it is put to parliament for approval as part of a clear statutory process.”

First Minister Alex Salmond has pledged his preferred question will be rigorously tested by the commission.