Draft referendum bill: consultation analysis

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

5. Campaign rules

5.1 This chapter presents respondents' views in relation to the campaign rules for a referendum. Note, however, the comments submitted by key organisations (including the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Management Board for Scotland) have been discussed separately in Chapter 3, together with the responses of a small number of other key stakeholder organisations.

5.2 The consultation paper discussed:

  • The need for campaign rules
  • Proposals regarding campaign participants (including technical changes from the 2014 referendum procedures)
  • The fact that no grants of public money would be given to those wishing to campaign
  • Spending limits for participants in the referendum campaign
  • The types of activities that would constitute 'campaign expenditure' and count towards permitted participants' spending limits.
  • Proposed technical changes in the way expenses for permitted participants would be calculated, and in relation to financial transactions between permitted participants and qualifying / non-qualifying individuals or bodies.

5.3 The consultation included three questions which asked about technical issues related to: (i) proposed changes in the rules on permitted participants; (ii) the campaign rules and rules on spending; and (iii) proposed changes to the rules on permitted participants' expenses and transactions between (a) permitted participants and (b) qualifying / non-qualifying individuals and bodies.

Question 3: What are your views on the proposed changes to rules on permissible participants?

Question 4: What are your views on the proposed campaign rules and rules on spending?

Question 5: What are your views on the proposed changes to the rules on permissible participants' expenses and transactions between qualifying and non-qualifying persons?

5.4 This chapter will first consider the views of the very small number of respondents who commented on the specific technical proposals discussed in the consultation paper. Then it will go on to discuss the more dominant themes in respondents' comments about the conduct of the campaign.

5.5 Note that very few respondents engaged with the technical aspects of these questions. Comments at Questions 3 and 5, in particular, tended to take one of two forms: (i) either the respondent said they agreed with the proposed changes without offering further comment or an explanation for their agreement, or (ii) they said they could not comment because they did not understand the question.

5.6 There was a great deal of consistency in the brief comments made by those respondents indicating general agreement with the proposals. These respondents said that they thought the proposals covered by Questions 3 to 5 were 'sensible', 'adequate' or 'proportionate'. Respondents thought the proposals were necessary to address previous concerns and that they would introduce greater transparency and robustness to the oversight of campaigning. With respect to campaign spending in particular, respondents thought the proposals would ensure a 'fair' referendum and a 'level playing field'.

5.7 Most of the more substantive comments made by respondents focused on broad topics relating to the campaign rules or conduct of the campaign. The principle of fairness was a recurring theme in these comments; and, related to this, respondents repeatedly emphasised the need for: (i) increased and ongoing scrutiny (particularly in relation to campaign spending and donations), and (ii) enforcement (of campaign rules and rules on spending). These three themes of fairness, scrutiny and enforcement occurred frequently, regardless of whether respondents were discussing their views about campaign participants, issues to do with campaign spending and donations, or the role of the media in the campaign. Respondents offered a wide range of suggestions about how fairness might be achieved, how scrutiny should be improved, and what forms enforcement should take.

Views on proposed technical changes

5.8 Fewer than 50 respondents commented on any of proposed technical changes discussed in the consultation paper. In general, there was support for the changes proposed, with respondents suggesting that the changes were 'sensible' and would support fairness and transparency. Some also referred to recommendations made by the Electoral Commission following the 2014 referendum. The following points were made by this group in relation to the proposed technical changes.

Spending threshold for registering as a permitted participant

5.9 Respondents who commented in any detail on the proposed £10,000 threshold for registering as a permitted participant generally did so because they disagreed with the threshold. The most common view was that the threshold for registering should be lower than £10,000. Some respondents simply made a general comment that 'the limit should be set at less than £10,000', while others made specific suggestions - £500, £1,000 and £5,000 were all suggested by multiple respondents.

5.10 Those who wanted a lower threshold for registration did so because they wanted to see increased scrutiny of the sources of campaign donations, and they believed that by requiring campaigners to register at a lower level of spending, this would lead to greater scrutiny of donations at a lower level too. (It should be noted, however, that there may have been some misunderstanding among respondents about the distinction between campaign spending by a permitted participant and campaign donations.)

5.11 Those who wanted a higher threshold for registration (£25,000 was mentioned) thought that £10,000 was a small amount of money in the context of the likely overall spending on a referendum campaign. The point was made that £10,000 is less than the annual salary of an individual on minimum wage, while £25,000 is a more typical salary.

5.12 A few respondents called for clarification about what would happen if an individual or organisation not registered as a permitted participant incrementally exceeded the amount for registration by giving small sums to different campaign groups; and what the implication of this threshold would be for small local campaign groups and donations sought through crowd-funding.

Appointment of responsible person for permitted participants

5.13 There was support for the proposal to require the person appointed as the responsible person for a permitted participant to sign the application for declaration (to register as a permitted participant). There was agreement that any individual named as a responsible person for a permitted participant should be required to indicate that they are aware of that fact, to prevent being named as a responsible person unknowingly, and to ensure that they can be held accountable for the actions of the permitted participant during the campaign. There was also a view that any individual signing a declaration as the responsible person for a campaign group should be required to have the formal approval of the members of that group (endorsement by a two-thirds majority was suggested).

Registering obscene or offensive names

5.14 Among those respondents who discussed the issue of registering campaign names, there was general agreement that the Electoral Commission should be able to reject the registration of any name proposed by a campaigner which is obscene or offensive. Respondents considered this proposal to be 'sensible', 'reasonable' and 'a good idea', and they commented that this would help in setting an appropriate tone for the campaign.

5.15 However, some respondents noted that the term 'offensive' is 'vague' and 'subjective', and they called for a clear definition of this term to be included in the Bill so that campaign names were not rejected for arbitrary reasons. Alternatively, it was suggested that any decisions taken by the Electoral Commission in rejecting 'offensive' names should be open to public scrutiny to help ensure that any such action is reasonable.

5.16 A less common view on this topic was that it was unnecessary to spend time addressing offensive language as there are already laws in place which allow this to be dealt with. Concern was also expressed about the potential for restricting freedom of speech.

Calculation of expenses for permitted participants

5.17 Fewer than 30 respondents made a comment in relation to the changes proposed in the calculation of permitted participants' expenses. Among these, there was general agreement with the changes proposed. This group endorsed the recommendation made by the Electoral Commission, and suggested that the change would improve the accuracy of the calculation of expenses.

Transactions between permitted participants and qualifying and non-qualifying persons

5.18 Respondents supported the proposal to make it an offence for a permitted participant to knowingly receive money under a loan or other regulated transaction from an individual (or organisation) who has ceased to be a qualifying person, or to fail to repay a loan or other regulated transaction from such a person. Respondents welcomed the increased transparency associated with this proposal and generally endorsed the principle that money to fund campaigning in the referendum should not come from ineligible sources.

5.19 However, some also asked for clarification about the timeframe for repaying any money received from non-qualifying persons and about the enforcement of this rule. In particular, some wanted to know what would happen if a permitted participant simply denied all knowledge of the change in a qualifying person's status - and for this reason, there was a suggestion that the offence should relate to 'unknowingly' (as well as 'knowingly') receiving money from a non-qualifying person. Respondents also asked for details about: (i) who would ensure the money was repaid; (ii) what safeguards could be put in place to prevent donations being channelled into the campaign through a qualifying person by a non-qualifying person; and (iii) what sanctions there would be for those who had committed the offence. There was a view that a fine was unlikely to act as a sufficient deterrent in the context of a referendum on Scottish independence, and there were calls for custodial sentences to be considered.

5.20 The main concern voiced by this group in relation to this point was that the rule could only be enforced 'after the fact' - which would inevitably be after the referendum - by which point any illegal transactions will have contributed to the outcome.

Views on the conduct of the campaign

5.21 As noted above in paragraphs 5.5 and 5.7, most respondents did not engage with the technical detail of the proposals set out in the consultation paper, but rather focused their comments on more general issues relating to the campaign rules and the conduct of the campaign. The main themes in these responses were in relation to the eligibility of permitted campaign participants; spending limits and expenses; donations and donors; the use of public funds and the role of Government in the referendum; and the quality of campaign information (including the role of the media). Other themes, raised less often, are discussed at the end of this chapter.

5.22 It was clear that people's views were influenced by their perceptions of the campaigns leading up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum. These respondents frequently alleged that campaign rules had been broken in both these campaigns but that no legal (or other) consequences had followed. Respondents wanted to see any breaches in campaign rules dealt with swiftly and in an ongoing way throughout the campaign before they could affect the outcome of the referendum.

Eligibility to register as a permitted participant

5.23 One of the main themes in respondents' comments about the referendum campaign rules related to the eligibility to register as a campaign group. The predominant view was that only individuals living in Scotland and organisations based in Scotland should be eligible to register as permitted participants. Some said that only those who would be eligible to vote in the referendum should be able to campaign.

5.24 However, an alternative view was that individuals / organisations based anywhere in the UK should be able to register as a permitted participant, but that all members of a permitted participant campaign group must be exclusively domiciled in the UK.

5.25 Respondents commenting on this issue frequently alleged that during the 2014 referendum, multiple groups had registered as campaign participants (on both sides of the campaign), but that these separate groups were all controlled, co-ordinated and funded by one or other of the two main campaign groups. Furthermore, this was perceived to have been done deliberately to avoid breaching campaign spending limits.

Need for improved information on rules for campaign groups

5.26 Occasionally, respondents voiced concerns about whether small, local grassroots campaigners would have the necessary knowledge or administrative capacity to be able to avoid falling foul of the proposed campaign rules. This group of respondents wanted to see more information available to local activists and campaigners about the rules. There was also a view that it would be beneficial to provide information about campaign rules to members of the public more widely so that there is an increased awareness of when the rules are being broken. Various respondents called for a plain English guide to campaigning for small campaign groups and more support / training materials for groups in relation to handling donations, and the proper use and management of campaign funding.

Campaign spending

5.27 There was a range of views about whether - and at what point - campaign spending should be capped. The predominant view was that there should be defined limits on campaign spending, and that this limit should apply to the campaign overall, rather than to separate campaign groups. Respondents who commented on this issue generally thought that both sides of the campaign should have the same overall limit - thus dealing with the concern (mentioned in paragraph 5.25 above) about multiple campaign groups being created and controlled by a central campaign organisation in order to achieve a greater spend, and so have an advantage over the other side.

5.28 Respondents did not usually give a view on what the spending limit should be; rather they made more general statements such as 'the less spending the better', 'there should be a slight increase over the 2014 spending limits', or 'as long as all parties agree to the limits'.

5.29 However, some did make more specific suggestions, ranging from £200 in total to £2 million. Limits of £500k and £1 million were suggested by multiple respondents. It was clear that the most common view was that overall spending on a second referendum should be less than it was on the 2014 referendum. Others suggested applying limits to particular items of spending, such as advertising ( e.g. 'should be cut by 90%').

5.30 The alternative view, expressed less often, was that there should be no limits on spending. Those who held this view gave two main reasons: (i) it is not possible to enforce campaign spending limits and, since the 'other side' would undoubtedly break the rules, it would be best simply to let everyone spend whatever it took to win; (ii) no amount of money is too much to spend on a campaign with such high stakes.

5.31 However, among the respondents who discussed campaign spending, the main concern related to how breaches of spending limits would be identified and enforced. They emphasised that reporting expenditure after the outcome of the referendum was known was too late. They wanted participants' expenses to be reported and published regularly (some suggested daily, others weekly) throughout the campaign.

Campaign expenses

5.32 In relation to the specific issue of what items should constitute campaign spending, there were suggestions that the following should be included:

  • Salaries, travel and accommodation costs for hired campaigners working under the direction of a campaign participant
  • Cost of any time spent by civil servants in preparing reports for either campaign
  • Cost of media coverage
  • Cost of cleaning services to deal with the large amount of campaign leaflets, posters and other printed publicity discarded or left displayed in public places at the end of the campaign.

5.33 Occasionally, there were also comments that so-called 'notional expenses' ( i.e. cost savings associated with property, facilities or services provided free of charge) should be costed in full (at a commercial rate) and included as ordinary expenses.

Campaign donations and donors

5.34 Respondents' views about campaign donations and donors were closely linked to their views on permitted participants and campaign spending. Thus, many of the themes arising in relation to donations and donors overlap with those discussed above. These themes focused on: (i) prohibiting or restricting campaign donations from specific sources, individuals or groups; (ii) setting a financial limit on donations; and (iii) ensuring full transparency in relation to donations and donors.

Prohibiting or restricting campaign donations from specific sources, individuals or groups

5.35 Respondents who commented on this issue thought that campaign donations and / or donors should be prohibited or restricted from specific sources, individuals or groups. In particular, there was a view that campaign donations should come only from sources based within Scotland and that any campaign donor (including individual donors, parties, and organisational donors) should be resident in and / or eligible to vote in the referendum and / or paying taxes within Scotland.

5.36 Some respondents specifically said that donations from other parts of the UK or from the EU or further afield should not be allowed; these respondents thought that it was inappropriate for people, parties or organisations based outside of Scotland - who, according to them would not be affected by the result - to exert undue influence on the campaign.

5.37 Occasionally, respondents said that a complete prohibition on these donations was not required, but that donations from any one source should be 'nominal' or 'limited' or restricted to a small proportion of the overall total expenditure (10% was suggested). There was specific comment about the perceived inappropriateness of campaigns being bankrolled by very large donations from wealthy private individuals (including 'unionist millionaires' and / or 'lottery winners').

5.38 Other sources, individuals or groups each mentioned by a small number of respondents as candidates for prohibition or restriction in relation to donations were:

  • Commercial / corporate organisations
  • Pro-unionist organisations
  • Any non-qualifying person
  • MPs and Lords
  • Political parties
  • Banned political parties
  • Tax avoiding companies / individuals.

5.39 Less commonly, respondents said that no donations / and or donors should be allowed. These individuals thought that any expenditure should come from public funds only.

Setting a financial limit on donations

5.40 Some respondents emphasised the importance of placing limits on the amount that could be donated by an individual and / or a corporation. Some within this group expressed this in general terms ( e.g. 'the amount given by individuals should be significantly reduced', 'there should be a maximum cap'), while others mentioned specific sums ranging from £100 to £ 500,000 (for an individual) and up to £100,000 for a political party.

Ensuring full transparency in relation to donations and donors

5.41 Respondents who commented on the issue of campaign donations and / or donors were overwhelmingly in favour of greater transparency, and so supported proposals in the consultation document to enhance this.

5.42 This group offered a range of suggestions elaborating the proposals to enhance transparency. They were generally in favour of all donations and donors being itemised and named, and they wanted this information - including the source of each donation, and the affiliation of the donor - to be published (and made publicly accessible) at regular intervals throughout the campaign, and in full at the end of the campaign. While some respondents specified a lower limit for declaration (sums between £179 and £1,000 were mentioned) others requested that ALL donations, however small, should be declared and made available for public scrutiny.

5.43 Some respondents also thought that:

  • Multiple donations by organisations / individuals should be investigated
  • In-kind contributions where a tangible cost may be applied should be declared
  • There should be more transparency on the sources of funding for individual leaflets, adverts, videos, etc.
  • Steps should be taken to ensure that donations are not being made in return for a favour or privilege
  • All donations should be traceable and audited and there should be independent confirmation about the eligibility of donors (as 'permissible donors')
  • All donations should cease at a specified period before polling day (ranging from four weeks to six months).

5.44 Just one individual spoke in favour of allowing anonymous donations.

Other issues in relation to donations and donors

5.45 Other specific suggestions made by respondents included that: (i) no loans should be allowed and no one campaign group should be allowed to 'bail out' another; and (ii) there should be strict enforcement of the rules and heavy penalties for non-compliance.

The use of public funds and the role of Government in the referendum campaign

5.46 One of the main themes in respondents' comments on the campaign related to the use of public funds for the referendum campaign. The predominant view - expressed by the overwhelming majority of those who commented on this issue - was that no public funds (often described as 'taxpayers' money') should be used for any future referendum campaign. Thus, respondents endorsed the statement made in the consultation paper in relation to this issue.

5.47 However, among those who commented on this issue, some also suggested that 'public funds for the referendum campaign' should be taken to include all the expenditure incurred as a consequence of any work undertaken by civil servants ( e.g. drafting papers, engaging in correspondence, holding meetings) in relation to the referendum, both north and south of the border. As discussed above ( paragraph 5.32), some respondents wanted all of this work to be costed and to be included as part of the calculation of campaign expenses for the relevant campaign position.

5.48 Other respondents argued that civil servants and officials from all parts of the civil service should not be involved in producing documents that could be perceived as making the case for one side or other of the campaign. The publication of the Scottish Government's 'White Paper for Independence' and the Westminster Government's 'Better Together' document were cited as examples by such respondents.

5.49 A contrasting view, expressed much less often, was that, for fairness, both positions in the campaign should receive equal amounts of public funding, or that equal amounts of money should be available for each side to promote their views through the media. There was also a view that public monies should only be spent on 'neutral' activities to promote voter registration or to encourage people to vote.

The quality of campaign information and the potential for bias

5.50 A dominant theme in the responses was that of the quality of campaign information and the potential for bias. There were frequent requests for people to have access to fair, honest and accurate information ('facts' rather than 'opinions') to allow them to decide how to vote, and there was a recurring view that this had not been the case in the 2014 independence referendum, or the 2016 EU referendum. In both cases respondents thought these campaigns had been marred by a lack of reliable information, false and / or biased information, 'scaremongering', and biased media reporting.

Campaign information

5.51 Respondents put forward a range of suggestions as to how the quality, accuracy and integrity of information might be addressed. These included:

  • The requirement for all information used in campaigns to be independently verified (or to be marked as 'unverified') or for information sources to be provided; and for all campaign literature to include a 'response' from the other side of the campaign.
  • The establishment of an independent fact-checking service or body of some type - this might involve existing bodies such as the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner or the Office for National Statistics ( ONS); international or overseas bodies or individuals; professionals, individuals of civic standing, experts or academics from different disciplines, etc. A regular fact-checking bulletin was suggested. Several respondents suggested a fact-checking service might be funded via a levy-type arrangement on campaign spending.
  • The provision or collation of 'neutral' information on relevant issues - it was suggested this could be carried out by experts in relevant areas, a cross-party group of MPs [sic], a judicial committee, civil servants, or the Electoral Commission.

5.52 Respondents stressed the importance of immediate action being taken if inaccurate, misleading or untrue information was used in campaign material or speeches. Some wanted to see an automatic right to reply, the naming of culprits and / or the publication of prominent corrections; it was also suggested that there should be powers to nullify a referendum result should it be found to be linked to false information. There were also calls for criminal prosecutions which might result in substantial fines and / or imprisonment. However, some respondents pointed out that any rules regarding the integrity of campaign information would be difficult to enforce, that there was a clear problem in taking action 'after the event' ( i.e. once a referendum had taken place), and that some individuals or groups would be willing to break the rules and face the consequences given what was at stake.

5.53 Respondents also noted the challenges of monitoring and regulating information from a range of 'unofficial sources': this included information published by think tanks, lobbyists and special interest groups.

The role of the media

5.54 The role of the media was a key concern for some respondents, with many believing that coverage of the previous campaign had been 'biased'. This accusation was levelled at 'mainstream' print and broadcast media, with the BBC attracting particular criticism because of its publicly funded status and the obligations which that entailed in terms of providing a neutral, UK-wide service. Some respondents supported this claim of bias by referring to the work of academics and research conducted during and after the 2014 referendum campaign.

5.55 There was a view that media coverage, unless it was impartial, amounted to campaigning and should be treated as such. While some thought that media outlets should be required to remain neutral, others argued for measures which would aid transparency in relation to a non-neutral media. They suggested that non-neutral media outlets should be required to declare their position or officially register as campaign participants, or that a cost should be attached to media activity and included within the expenses of the campaign receiving the benefit of the coverage.

5.56 In general, respondents who discussed this issue wished to see 'impartial' referendum coverage characterised by, for example, coverage of both sides of the argument in the same broadcast; equality of air-time / column inches for both sides; equal numbers of contributors from each side to programmes / articles; experts of equal standing representing each side; transparency regarding the affiliations of contributors, etc. It was also suggested that the media (the BBC in particular) might be required to carry out fact-checking and to produce programmes which present both sides of the argument on relevant issues.

5.57 Some thought that impartial media coverage might be achieved by legislative means; others suggested non-legislative approaches such as an agreed 'protocol' on media conduct. Again, there were calls for monitoring by an independent body (as previously discussed) or for the Referendum Bill to include provision for a Broadcasting Commission.

5.58 Reference was also made to approaches adopted in other countries ( e.g. France, Italy) with regard to media regulation during election campaigns.

5.59 In terms of sanctions for contravening any rules on impartiality, there were calls for the publication of prominent corrections, for outlets to be banned from further coverage of the campaign, for newspapers to be removed from sale, and for individual journalists to be held to account.

5.60 The fact that much of the mainstream media in Scotland originates outside of Scotland (from England in particular), is owned by non-Scottish organisations, or is produced by organisations with UK-wide remits was seen as a particular factor contributing to the perceived anti-independence bias. It was common for respondents who were concerned about this to refer to 'establishment' or government influence or interference at UK-level. Some respondents also called for specific restrictions on campaign coverage by non-Scottish media, or for measures to be introduced which would help achieve greater overall balance: e.g. a right-to-reply to non-Scottish output; the establishment of a TV channel which supported independence; public funding for a Scottish alternative to the BBC.

5.61 Not all respondents were, however, concerned about the impartiality of the media; a few expressed support for the BBC, or indicated concern about government interference with or criticism of the BBC. In addition, with regard to print media, there was some acceptance that the editorial stance of newspapers was well known and, thus, less of an issue.

The role of social media

5.62 The increasing significance of social media as a source of information and misinformation was also noted. Some respondents thought that steps should be taken to police social media activity (removing false claims, pursuing internet 'trolls', requiring the 'badging' of information), or to update PPERA to take full account of the role social media plays in the informal dissemination of information. [8] At the same time, however, they acknowledged that this would be difficult to enforce.

Other points made

5.63 Alongside the criticisms and concerns expressed by most of those who commented on this issue, there were a small number of other points made, each put forward by a small number of respondents. These included the following:

  • Any steps to regulate campaign information or the role of the media would be difficult to enforce.
  • It was important to protect the principles of free speech.
  • There should be greater clarification of the role of the Electoral Commission in relation to the regulation of campaign information.
  • There should be restrictions on the publication of opinion polls during the campaign period as these were perceived to influence voter behaviour.

The campaign period

5.64 A small number of respondents made a comment about the proposed 16-week campaign period. In general, those who raised this issue thought that a shorter campaign period would be preferable - suggestions ranging from 2 weeks to 10 weeks were made; however, others simply said 'as short as possible'. Those who wanted a shorter period thought that the 2014 referendum campaign had gone on for too long; that people already knew what the issues were and did not need a long campaign next time; a long campaign period might put people off voting; and that a shorter campaign would have less of a negative impact on the country.

5.65 Occasionally, respondents suggested that the campaign period should be longer than the proposed 16 weeks. This group thought that Brexit would change many of the arguments made in the 2014 campaign; and that the EU referendum campaign (of 10 weeks) had been too short to allow a proper debate to take place.

5.66 There was a view among a wider group of respondents that the campaign period itself had not been well enough policed, particularly in relation to the purdah period as discussed below.

Other comments on the campaign

5.67 Respondents made a variety of other comments in relation to the campaign rules or on the conduct of the campaign. In general, these were offered in the interests of achieving greater fairness in the campaign. The two most common issues raised related to 'purdah' (the 28-day restriction period prior to polling day), and the behaviour of campaigners.


5.68 Some respondents expressed particular concern about what they believed was a serious breach of campaign rules in the 2014 referendum campaign. In particular, this group of respondents were critical of the so-called 'Vow' issued by politicians supporting the 'Better Together' campaign, which was published in the media in the final days of the 2014 referendum campaign. This was seen to be a breach of purdah (the rule that the government and other public bodies should not make announcements or publish information relevant to the vote in the period running up to polling day), and respondents were unhappy that no action had been taken in response to this.

5.69 Respondents who raised this concern wanted the rule of purdah to be strengthened and, more importantly, strictly enforced. They thought that the rules relating to purdah for a Scottish independence referendum should cover the whole of the UK, and that this should be clarified in the Referendum Bill. It was also suggested that the media should be covered by the purdah rule. Some called for the media to adhere to a code of conduct which would include this rule.

5.70 Occasionally respondents also said that purdah rule should be extended to cover other private sector organisations (in addition to the media) and activities. For example, (as already noted above) some suggested there should be no publication or reporting of opinion polls during the purdah period because of the potential these had to influence voting behaviour.

5.71 A few respondents also made comments about the length of purdah, with some suggesting that it should be longer than the current 28 days and some shorter ( e.g. 14 days).

Behaviour of campaigners

5.72 Some respondents made allegations of widespread bullying (including cyber bullying) and intimidation taking place of voters during the 2014 referendum campaign, on both sides. This group emphasised that such behaviour undermined the ability to conduct a fair and open debate, and they called for campaign groups to take greater responsibility, and be held accountable for the behaviour of their supporters.

Other issues

5.73 Various other issues were put forward for consideration by a relatively small number of respondents regarding the campaign rules or conduct of the campaign, including that:

  • It should not be permitted for campaigners to be transported from one part of the country to another to campaign (a practice referred to as 'astroturfing')
  • Political parties should not be permitted to fund or manage campaigns.
  • The campaign rules should be the same as for a general election or the same as the 2016 referendum.
  • It should be prohibited to use the saltire, union jack or other emotive imagery in campaign literature.
  • There should be restrictions (or a complete ban) on unsolicited mail / leaflets posted through doors during the campaign
  • There should be no TV broadcasts whatsoever; rather campaigners should be expected to engage in face-to-face debate and discussion only.

5.74 There was also concern about school buildings being used for campaign activities. Some respondents argued that the politicisation of school pupils should be avoided, and that any campaign activities should only be permitted outside of term times.


Email: Louise Scott,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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