'Your Scotland, Your Referendum': An Analysis of Consultation Responses

This report presents the analysis of responses to the 'Your Scotland, Your Referendum' consultation on proposals for a referendum on Scottish independence. The consultation closed on 11 May 2012.


Chapter 1: Introduction

1. In January 2012, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation to gather views on its proposals for undertaking a referendum on Scottish independence. The consultation document, 'Your Scotland, Your Referendum', was published on 25 January 2012, and the public consultation was open until 11 May 2012.

2. The consultation document contained nine open-ended questions, which sought views on a range of issues including: the wording of the referendum question and design of the ballot paper; the timetable; whether there should be one question or two; the arrangements for the operational management and oversight of the referendum; proposals for increasing voter turnout; the franchise; and spending limits for campaigning organisations. The consultation document also addressed a range of other issues that were not the subject of specific questions, including (but not limited to): the powers of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum; the proposal that the referendum outcome should be based on a simple majority of the votes cast; and the eligibility to vote.

Chapter 2: The consultation process and types of response

3. A total of 30,219 responses to the consultation were received, and 26,219 of these formed the basis for the analysis.

4. The 26,219 responses comprised 21,198 from individuals; 164 from organisations or groups; and 4,857 were 'campaign' responses, submitted through three campaigns. The campaigns were organised by: (i) the Scottish National Party, (ii) the Scottish Labour Party, and (iii) a smaller campaign based in and around Lanarkshire. These campaign responses included 4,000 standard responses (containing the exact campaign texts with no modifications), and 857 non-standard responses (which contained relatively minor modifications to the standard campaign texts from two of the campaigns).

5. Seventy-seven per cent (77%) of those taking part in the consultation (just over 20,000 respondents) stated that they were resident in Scotland, while fewer than 5% said they lived elsewhere. No information on residency was available for the remaining respondents.

Chapter 3: Approach to the analysis

6. The analysis was primarily qualitative in nature. Its main aim was to identify the key themes, as well as the full range and depth of issues, raised by respondents in their comments on each question in the consultation document.

7. In addition, the Scottish Government decided to explore (through quantitative analysis) the broad balance of opinion in relation to the following issues:

  • The wording of the referendum question
  • The proposed timetable
  • The inclusion of a second question in the referendum
  • Voting on a Saturday
  • Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year old young people.

Chapter 4: The referendum question and ballot paper (Question 1)

8. Question 1 was: What are your views on the referendum question and the design of the ballot paper?

9. Of those respondents who commented on the proposed referendum question, 64% broadly agreed with the wording of the question and 28% did not; the remainder had unclear or mixed views.

10. Respondents who agreed with the proposed question generally described it as clear, concise, unambiguous, simple, straightforward, to the point and easy to understand. Those who disagreed often expressed diametrically opposed views to those who agreed, describing the proposed question as biased, leading, misleading, loaded, too simplistic, unclear and confusing.

11. Respondents often made suggestions for one or more alternative questions which they believed would be more acceptable to them personally, or to critics. In some cases, these suggestions were relatively minor. However, respondents who did not agree with the proposed question often wanted more substantial changes. There were three main groups: (i) those who believed the question should include a reference to separation, or leaving the United Kingdom; (ii) those who believed the question's proposition should be based on the status quo (that is, remaining in the United Kingdom) and (iii) those who felt that the referendum vote should not be a Yes-or-No vote, but rather the propositions for independence and for remaining in the Union should both be stated positively and voters should be asked to vote for the proposition they favoured.

Chapter 5: Timetable and voting arrangements (Question 2)

12. Question 2 was: What are your views on the proposed timetable and voting arrangements?

13. Of those respondents who commented on the proposed referendum timetable, 62% broadly agreed with the timetable and 36% did not; the remainder had unclear or mixed views.

14. Those who supported the proposed timetable argued that it gave the Scottish electorate sufficient time to properly consider the arguments being put forward. The point was also made that the current SNP administration had made it clear prior to the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election that it would hold a referendum on independence in the latter part of the 2011-2016 parliamentary term.

15. Of those who disagreed with the proposed timetable, almost all wanted the referendum to be held before Autumn 2014. Various alternative dates were suggested, ranging from immediately through to Spring 2014.

16. Those who wanted an earlier referendum commonly made one (or more) of three points: (i) the Scottish economy could suffer due to a perceived uncertainty over Scotland's future; (ii) the referendum was being held later than necessary because the current administration needs two years to convince the electorate of the case for independence; and (iii) the proposed timetable was part of a political ploy which was intended to capitalise on the "feel good factor" of other key events in 2014.

17. Those who made further comments about the voting arrangements for the referendum generally stated their broad support for the arrangements set out within the consultation document.

Chapter 6: Possible inclusion of a second question (Question 3)

18. Question 3 was: What are your views on the inclusion of a second question in the referendum and the voting system that could be used?

19. Of those respondents who commented on the issue of a second question, 32% were broadly in favour of including a second question and 62% were not; the remainder had unclear or mixed views.

20. The three main reasons that respondents gave for wanting a second question in the referendum were that: (i) it would provide a greater choice to the electorate than a simple yes-or-no question on independence; (ii) devo max was felt to be the next logical step for Scotland; and (iii) it would provide the Scottish Government with a stronger negotiating position in any future discussions with the UK Government if the Scottish electorate was to vote no to independence.

21. The main argument against the inclusion of a second question was that it would complicate matters and cause confusion. Among those who did not want a second question, there was a feeling that the vote for independence should be resolved first, and then, depending on the outcome of that vote, further devolution could be considered at a later time. Other respondents argued that a formal vote on devo max was unnecessary as the Scottish Government already has a mandate from the Scottish people to negotiate for additional powers. Still others felt that - while it was appropriate for the people of Scotland to vote on independence (as this was a constitutional matter) - it was not appropriate for the people of Scotland alone to make a decision on what further powers they wished to be devolved from the UK Government.

22. In relation to the voting system that might be used, respondents who advocated the inclusion of a second question argued that the first question - that is, the question on independence - should take precedence over the devo max question. In other words, a simple majority vote for independence should result in Scotland becoming independent, irrespective of whether a greater proportion of voters said yes to devo max.

Chapter 7: The operational management and oversight of the referendum (Questions 4 and 5)

23. Question 4 was: What are your views on the proposal to give the Electoral Management Board and its Convener responsibility for the operational management of the referendum? Question 5 was: What are your views on the proposed division of roles between the Electoral Management Board and the Electoral Commission?

24. The main points made by respondents in relation to the operational management and oversight of the referendum were that it should be - and should be seen to be - fair, independent, impartial, transparent, open to scrutiny, and not subject to political interference.

Chapter 8: Saturday voting (Question 6)

25. Question 6 was: What are your views on the idea that the referendum could be held on a Saturday or on other ways which would make voting easier?

26. Of those respondents who commented on the issue of Saturday voting, 46% broadly agreed with holding the referendum on a Saturday and 32% did not; the remainder had unclear or mixed views.

27. Comments on Saturday voting generally focused on whether voter turnout would be higher if the vote were to be held on a Saturday. Those who broadly supported the idea of a Saturday vote frequently said that they would support the idea if it increased voter turnout.

28. Those who were opposed to Saturday voting suggested that voter turnout might actually be lower on a Saturday for three reasons: (i) Saturday can be the busiest day of the week for many people, particularly for those with children; (ii) some people may have religious beliefs that would prevent them from voting on a Saturday; and (iii) people may be more likely to remember to vote if the vote was on Thursday, the traditional day for voting in Scotland.

29. Some respondents were not opposed in principle to the idea of voting on a Saturday, but felt that it would not be appropriate to introduce this new practice for the first time in the referendum.

30. Respondents' views were mixed in relation to the other specific suggestions set out in the consultation document for making voting easier - including the idea of locating polling stations in a range of non-traditional venues.

Chapter 9: Extending the franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds (Question 7)

31. Question 7 was: What are your views on extending the franchise to those aged 16 and 17 years who are eligible to be registered on the electoral register?

32. Of those respondents who commented on the issue of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, 56% broadly agreed with extending the franchise and 41% did not; the remainder had unclear or mixed views.

33. Those who favoured extending the franchise frequently pointed out that if 16 and 17 year olds are able, for example, to get married and join the army, they should also be allowed to vote at elections. The other reason repeatedly given for supporting the extension of the franchise was that it is younger people who will live with the outcome of the referendum vote and they should be entitled to have their say on what a future Scotland will look like.

34. Respondents who supported the extension of the franchise for the referendum often suggested that the franchise should be extended for all elections. At the same time, there were also some who felt the franchise for the referendum should only be extended if it were to be done for all elections.

35. Those who opposed the extension of the franchise gave one (or more) of the following reasons: (i) they saw the change as politically motivated; (ii) they felt that 16 and 17 year olds are not mature enough and have insufficient life experience to make such an important decision; and (iii) society does not consider 16 and 17 year olds responsible enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and therefore it was questioned why society would consider them mature enough to vote.

Chapter 10: Spending limits for participants in the referendum campaign (Question 8)

36. Question 8 was: What are your views on the proposed spending limits?

37. Respondents frequently focused on the basic principles which should underpin the spending arrangements, rather than on the specific proposals set out within the consultation document. It was suggested that spend should be "equitable", and that there must be high levels of transparency and accountability, with clear processes in place throughout the referendum campaign.

Chapter 11: Draft Referendum Bill and other comments (Question 9)

38. Question 9 was: Do you have any other comments about the proposals in the draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill?

39. Very few of the comments at Question 9 specifically addressed the content of draft Bill. Altogether, just over 50 people made a substantive comment on the draft. These included suggested changes to particular sections of the Bill.

40. In addition, while not directly related to the draft Bill, a small number of respondents suggested that Scotland should have a written constitution, and that this constitution should form the basis for the independence vote.

41. Respondents often used the space provided by this question to give their views (or to ask a series of questions) on a wide range of other subjects not related directly to the questions in the consultation document. Respondents also used this space to make a comment about which Parliament (the Scottish or UK Parliament) should have responsibility for making decisions about the referendum; to reiterate or summarise their earlier comments; or to address issues that were raised in the consultation document, but which were not the subject of a particular question.


Email: Alison Stout

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