Draft referendum bill: consultation analysis

Independent analysis of responses to the consultation on a draft referendum bill, held between October 2016 and January 2017.

1. Introduction and background

1.1 On 20 October 2016, the Scottish Government published a consultation on a draft Referendum Bill. [2] The consultation paper set out the Scottish Government's proposals for legislation for a possible referendum on independence for Scotland. The consultation ran for three months, and closed on 11 January 2017.

Policy context

1.2 In June 2016, a UK-wide referendum resulted in a narrow majority (52%) voting in favour of leaving the European Union ( EU). However, the results of the EU referendum in Scotland were very different - with 62% voting to remain.

1.3 In response to this result, and given the support expressed for EU membership by people in Scotland, the Scottish Government announced that it would explore how Scotland's place in, and relationship with, Europe might continue to be protected. A standing council of experts on Europe was established by the Scottish Government in autumn 2016 to consider all possible options, including that of becoming an independent country.

1.4 At the same time, the Scottish Government also made it clear that the UK's withdrawal from the EU represents a 'significant material change in circumstances' since 2014, thus meeting one of its key criteria for holding a referendum on Scottish independence, as set out in its 2016 Scottish Parliament election manifesto. Therefore, following the announcement made in The Scottish Government's Programme for Scotland in September 2016, [3] a draft Referendum Bill was published for consultation in October 2016 with the aim of having legislation ready to introduce to Parliament should the Scottish Government conclude that seeking the views of the Scottish people on independence is the best, or only, way to protect Scotland's interests.

The consultation

1.5 The consultation paper proposed a number of changes to the procedures followed in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Some of these related to legislative changes implemented after 2014, and some were intended to address specific issues raised following the 2014 referendum. The consultation paper contained two substantive chapters. These: (i) set out proposals for the management and regulation of a future referendum (including technical changes to polling and count arrangements) and the franchise (rules governing the eligibility to vote); and (ii) described the proposed rules for ensuring that a referendum campaign is run in a fair and transparent manner.

1.6 The consultation contained five open questions which all took the form: 'What are your views on…?' These addressed:

  • Question 1: Arrangements for managing the referendum
  • Question 2: Technical changes to polling and count arrangements (since the 2014 referendum)
  • Question 3: Changes to rules on permitted participants (in the referendum campaign)
  • Question 4: Campaign rules and rules on spending
  • Question 5: Changes to the rules on permitted participants' expenses and transactions between qualifying and non-qualifying persons.

1.7 There were no closed (tick-box) questions in the consultation.

About the analysis

1.8 Since all the responses to this consultation took the form of free-text comments, the analysis was primarily qualitative in nature. The aim was to identify the main themes in the responses submitted.

1.9 All five of the consultation questions covered multiple and / or complex issues. For example, in Question 1 respondents were asked for their views on arrangements for managing the referendum. These 'arrangements' collectively related to: (i) the regulation and oversight of the referendum; (ii) the conduct of the poll and the count; and (iii) the role of the Electoral Commission. Similarly, in Question 2 respondents were asked for their views on the proposed technical changes to polling and count arrangements. These 'proposed technical changes' related to: (i) rules regarding the eligibility to vote, (ii) provisions for absent voting, (iii) the appointment of polling and count staff, and (iv) provision of the verification statement by the counting officer. Questions 3, 4 and 5 likewise addressed multiple issues. Thus, the responses to any specific question often included comments about one or more of a wide range of topics.

1.10 In a consultation such as this one, respondents are likely to comment about the issues that are of greatest importance - or of greatest concern - to them, and they are less likely to comment on issues that they do not see as important, that they are largely satisfied with, or which they do not fully understand. Thus, the content of people's responses - in terms of volume - tends to focus on changes that they feel are needed in the proposals. The analysis, though, provides a balanced account of the views submitted, and reports both on levels of agreement and disagreement where this can be robustly inferred.

1.11 Note that this analysis focused on responses which were relevant to the consultation questions asked. It was not within the scope of this project to analyse comments not directly related to the consultation. In addition, given the self-selecting nature of the sample, the findings presented in this report should not be taken as representing the views of the wider population.

Structure of this report

1.12 This report contains six chapters as follows:

  • Chapter 2 provides a description of the respondents and the responses to the consultation.
  • Chapter 3 contains a summary of the main points made in responses submitted by five key organisational stakeholders: the Electoral Commission; the Electoral Management Board for Scotland; the Scottish Assessors Association Electoral Registration Committee; the Law Society of Scotland; and the Broadcasters' Liaison Group. These organisations all have knowledge and expertise relevant to the main focus of the consultation.
  • Chapters 4 and 5 present findings from a thematic analysis of the responses submitted by all other respondents. These findings have been organised on a question-by-question basis with Chapter 4 focusing on views in relation to consultation questions 1 and 2, and Chapter 5 focusing on views in relation to questions 3, 4 and 5.
  • Chapter 6 contains a list of issues raised by respondents which were not directly related to the consultation questions. This chapter focuses on the main themes only as it was not within the scope of this project to conduct an analysis of these comments or to identify the views within them.


Email: Louise Scott,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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