1 Introduction and Context
1.1 The Scottish Government was elected in 2016 on a commitment that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold a referendum on independence for Scotland if there was a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed for the 2014 referendum, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against the will of its people.
1.2 In the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union held on 23 June 2016, the people of Scotland voted by a margin of 62% to 38% to remain in the European Union. The United Kingdom as a whole voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union.
1.3 Because the circumstances described in the election commitment have arisen, the Scottish Government has prepared the attached draft bill for consultation to ensure that the option of independence can be put to the people of Scotland by the Scottish Parliament should it consider that is the best approach to safeguarding Scotland's interests.
1.4 In the 2014 referendum, an Order in Council under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 was agreed by Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, recognising the mandate of the Scottish Government, and the support of the Scottish Parliament, for a referendum on independence. The Order put it beyond doubt that the Scottish Parliament could legislate for that referendum. If the Scottish Government decided to formally introduce this Bill to Parliament, it would be expected that a section 30 order would be sought and agreed, as in 2014.
1.5 The decision on Scotland's future should be taken through a process that is beyond reproach. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety are maintained. This paper gives people the opportunity to examine the proposed changes to the referendum legislation so that it is ready for introduction to the Scottish Parliament should this be required. The draft bill applies the rules in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 that applied to the 2014 referendum, subject to some specified changes.
1.6 In the 2014 referendum the question was "Should Scotland be an independent country?" At this stage, it is expected that the same question would be used again - but if as a result of consultation the Scottish Government is minded to propose a variation on that question it would submit the proposal to the Electoral Commission for independent testing in the usual way.
A simple majority
1.7 As in 2014, the referendum would not be subject to any minimum turnout requirement or approval threshold where approval is required by a minimum percentage of registered voters. This is in line with established practice within the UK and across Western Europe.