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We deserve better before September

It looks like being a long 16 weeks.

The final phase of the independence referendum campaign is now under way, but voters hoping for a clear view of what is on offer from the two sides are losing hope of ever getting it.

This week, the rival camps published two hopelessly irreconcilable views of the economic impact of independence (the SNP claiming each Scot would be £1000 better off and the Treasury claiming staying in the Union would bring a £1400 dividend to each person). What are voters to do, flip a coin? They are crying out for the grandstanding and insult-trading to stop and for both sides to give them information they can trust, as opposed to very-best or very-worst case scenarios. Sir Tom Hunter spoke for many when he said that what the two sides offered this week was "farcical" and that the electorate had been disrespected.

So with the campaigns today entering the formal referendum period, the two sides have a responsibility to raise their games. No-one expects passions to cool this close to the vote, but both camps will be thanked by voters if they can bring a sense of proportion to their pronouncements.

On Wednesday, the First Minister rightly criticised the Treasury for presenting a figure of £1.5 billion, rising to as much as £2.7bn, for the cost to an independent Scotland of setting up new government departments - the figure was extrapolated from research by an academic at the London School of Economics, who himself condemned it as greatly overblown. That is the sort of "campaigning" voters can well do without.

Yet the First Minister has himself has come under fire for failing to give his Government's own calculation of an independent Scotland's start-up costs; his spokesman claims they have never been worked out, though it is known government officials did some work on them two years ago.

This does not greatly inspire confidence. The First Minister's spokesman claims it cannot make the calculation because setting up government departments must first be preceded by complex negotiations with the UK Government, but it will not be lost on voters that the need for such negotiations has not prevented the Scottish Government estimating numerous other costs and benefits it believes would be associated with independence. The result of all this is that Scots will go to the polls with only vague, highly questionable estimates of what those costs would be.

These last few weeks are not only about the nature of the campaign; they are also about how it is funded. The Electoral Commissioner for Scotland has reminded campaigners to play by the financial rules; how important that is. This debate, at its best, has been illuminating, but a firm outcome to the vote is required. Whatever that turns out to be, it is of paramount importance that it is universally accepted and that the nation can then move on. If a row broke out over funding rules, it could undermine the whole result. That cannot be allowed to happen. The two sides have been working tirelessly for months, but now they must shine.

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