Draft Independence Referendum Bill

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2021 included a commitment to publish a draft independence referendum bill within the term of this Parliament. This publication includes the draft Bill, and the background.

Draft Bill

The Bill covers the following matters.

Date of the referendum

The date of the referendum poll will be decided taking account of a range of factors, including the state of the pandemic, the requirements for a proper period of campaigning to allow the people of Scotland to make a fully informed choice and for the necessary administrative arrangements to be put in place once the Bill has been passed.

The final decision on a date for the referendum will be for the next Scottish Parliament to take.

Question and the form of the ballot paper

The Scottish Government proposes that the referendum question should be the same as that used at the 2014 referendum. The draft Bill therefore includes the question and the form of the ballot paper used in 2014. The question continues to be well understood by the Scottish public, giving a high degree of confidence that it remains the most appropriate question to use[1].

Except in certain circumstances, the question should be tested if it is to be used in the next term of the Parliament. The Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020 will require the Electoral Commission to consider the wording of the referendum question and publish a statement of any views of the Commission as to the intelligibility of the question as soon as reasonably practicable after a referendum Bill is introduced.

In 2014, the referendum question was presented only in English. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting and promoting the use of Gaelic. The Scottish Government intends to translate the question into Gaelic, and ask the Electoral Commission to consider the translation as part of any question testing process as described above. The Scottish Government would also engage with electoral stakeholders, including the Electoral Management Board, on how best to make Gaelic-language ballot papers available to voters.


The draft Bill includes provision to extend the franchise to include foreign nationals with leave to remain in Scotland (or who do not require such leave). This fulfils the commitment made during the passage of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020 to align the referendum franchise with the elections franchise after the passage of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring those who live in Scotland, and have made their lives here, can influence decisions about the future of Scotland.

It may be necessary to make some additional technical adjustments, including to accommodate the expansion of the franchise. If required, these could be made by separate legislation, for example secondary legislation under section 37 of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020.


Email: Rebecca.Whyte@gov.scot

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