Consultation on a draft Referendum Bill

We are inviting views on proposals for how a referendum on independence for Scotland would be run.


This paper sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for legislation for a referendum on independence for Scotland. It sets out proposals for the rules governing the referendum campaign, the conduct of the poll and the counting of votes.

As announced in September 2016 in A Plan For Scotland: The Scottish Government's Programme For Scotland 2016-17, the Scottish Government is publishing for consultation a draft Referendum bill in order that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish Government conclude that seeking the view of the Scottish people on independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland's interests in the wake of the EU referendum. It would then be for the Scottish Parliament to consider the bill and decide whether a referendum should be held. The Scottish Government will reach a conclusion on whether to ask the Scottish Parliament to approve such a bill in the light of developments over the coming months. If the Scottish Government decides to formally introduce the Bill to Parliament, it would be expected that a section 30 order would be sought and agreed, as in 2014.

This consultation paper invites views on the proposals for how the referendum would be run. A draft Scottish Independence Referendum bill is set out as an appendix to this document.

The proposals are based on the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 ("the 2013 Act") which was used very successfully for the 2014 referendum. The objective for that referendum was to meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety. That objective was achieved. In the foreword to the Electoral Commission's report on the 2014 Independence referendum, held on 18 September 2014, John McCormick, the Electoral Commissioner with special responsibility for Scotland, said:

"First of all, I am pleased to report that the referendum was well run. At 84.6%, turnout at the referendum was the highest recorded at any Scotland-wide poll since the advent of universal suffrage. In addition, 10% of the voters we spoke to reported that the referendum was their first experience of voting at any statutory poll. And voters were happy with their experience of the electoral process. 94% of people who voted in polling stations, and 98% of those who voted by post, reported to us that they were satisfied with this."

This paper proposes a number of changes to update the provisions of the 2013 Act in light of more recent changes to the law on elections, particularly the change to individual electoral registration ( IER) and the Scottish legislation to lower the voting age to include 16 and 17 year-olds for local and Scottish Parliament elections. There are other changes to address specific issues which were raised following the 2014 referendum.

The Scottish Government will publish the contributions it receives (except where respondents request confidentiality) and use them to inform the further development of the bill.

Chapter 1 sets out the context and background to the publication of this consultation.

Chapter 2 covers the management and regulation of the referendum and the franchise – the rules on who would be able to vote.

As in 2014 the referendum would use Scotland's unique electoral management structure, co-ordinated by the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, a body independent of the Scottish Government. The poll and the count would be managed in the same way as for elections, by local returning officers (designated for the referendum as "counting officers") directed by a Chief Counting Officer ( CCO) who would be responsible for ensuring the proper and effective conduct of the referendum.

Counting officers, electoral registration officers and their staff would be responsible for managing the registration, poll and count processes within their local areas. The detailed rules about the conduct of the poll would be broadly the same as used in 2014.

The consultation proposes that, as in 2014, the regulation and monitoring of the referendum campaign should be undertaken by the Electoral Commission, which would also issue a range of guidance. The Commission would also report on the referendum process after it has been completed. In its responsibilities for this referendum the Commission would report to the Scottish Parliament.

The franchise for the referendum on Scotland's constitutional future would reflect residency in Scotland. Eligibility to vote would be the same as for the 2014 Referendum, and for Scottish Parliament and local government elections. It would include 16 and 17 year-olds and EU citizens in line with the principle that decisions on the future of Scotland should be for those who live and work here, including all those who have chosen to make Scotland their home.

Some changes to absent voting arrangements are proposed. These would update the 2013 Act to reflect developments in accepted practice at other Scottish elections, for example by ensuring 100% checking of postal vote identifiers.

A change in arrangements for the appointment of polling and count staff is suggested. This was recommended by the Electoral Commission in its report on the 2014 Referendum and makes provision that returning officers should not knowingly appoint polling or count staff who have been involved in campaigning.

Chapter 3 describes the proposed rules to ensure that the referendum campaign is run in a fair and transparent manner.

The rules are broadly the same as used in 2014. Updates to the rules on permissible participants are proposed. These bring the draft bill up to date with more recent changes in electoral law and referendum practice, and implement minor changes recommended by the Electoral Commission in its report on the 2014 referendum. Those include requiring the person who is to be appointed as the responsible person for permitted participant bodies to sign the application for declaration as a permitted participant, and allowing for a political party's campaigns officer to take on the treasurer's role of responsible person.

As in 2014, an individual or organisation wishing to spend more than £10,000 on campaigning for a particular outcome would need to register with the Commission as a permitted participant.

A permitted participant may apply to the Commission to be the principal campaigner (the "designated organisation") for an outcome in the referendum. The draft Referendum bill sets out the spending limits for different types of permitted participant.

No public funding would be provided for those who wish to campaign.

Chapter 4 explains how to respond to the consultation.

The deadline for responses is Wednesday 11 th January 2017.


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