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UK Government: most Scots want a single question in referendum

An overwhelming majority of people who replied to the UK Government's consultation on the referendum believe voters should be asked a single question on Scottish independence.

Michael Moore

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said today that, of the 2857 responses, a broad coalition of members of the public, businesses and academics formed part of the75% response in favour of a single question.

The UK and Scottish Governments and all main political parties have already expressed a preference for a single question referendum, although the Scottish Government's consultation has also asked for views on a possible second question, to test support for "devo-max" or "devo-plus".

Mr Moore said: "If all the political parties and the vast majority of respondents to our consultation agree that they would prefer a single question referendum then we must be able to agree that it will be a single question referendum."

The UK Government today published a 26 page document summarising the responses to the consultation and setting out the level of support for the Government’s proposals on how to facilitate a legal, fair and decisive referendum.

The consultation responses revealed:

   75% agreed with the UK Government that there should be a single question on Scotland’s constitutional status.

   70% agreed with the UK Government that the referendum should take place sooner rather than later, including a large number of businesses based in Scotland.

   63% support giving the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum support the use of a Section 30 order.

    86% agreed with the UK Government that the Electoral Commission should have a role in overseeing an independence referendum.

     71% expressed the view that those resident in Scotland should be entitled to vote in a referendum.  This shows a clear majority in support of the UK Government’s  preference that the devolved legislature and local government franchise would be most suitable.

Mr Moore said people gave reasons both of principle and practice for supporting a single question referendum:

In principle, independence and devolution are separate issues and should not be confused, and the Scottish Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on independence.

In practice, there is no agreement on what a second referendum question would be about, and there would be an unclear and disputed outcome if a second question received more support than independence but independence was pronounced the winner. 

Today’s report also sets out the UK Government’s own response to the consultation and explains how the Government plans  to proceed in light of the findings of the consultation.

Mr Moore said: "The consultation has produced a resounding endorsement for the referendum having a single, clear question on independence.  The reasons given are compelling. The Scottish Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum. It is not at all clear what a second question would be about. There must be a clear and decisive outcome to this referendum and a multi-option referendum will confuse matters.

"The quality of the argument is also backed up by quantity. The individuals and organisations who are supporting this option have added their voice to the many already supporting a single question. We are now in the position where a single, clear question is the preference of the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the main political parties in Scotland and three-quarters of those responding to the consultation.

"If all the political parties and the vast majority of respondents to our consultation agree that they would prefer a single question referendum then we must be able to agree that it will be a single question referendum.

"There is very strong support in Scotland for getting on with this referendum sooner rather than later. In particular, it is clear that business feel the uncertainty is damaging and this is something we cannot ignore.

"It is important that the two governments can reach agreement on these matters so that we can move on to the real debate about whether Scotland's future should be as part of the United Kingdom or as a separate country outside of the UK."

Earlier, speaking on BBC  Radio, Mr Moore acknowledged that 740, or a quarter of the responses to the consultation, came from a "standard text" on the Labour party website.

However, he said that didn't concern him "because that was consistent with a number of others from across Scotland who are also in favour of a single question and wanting to have this sooner rather than later".

The standard text on the Labour website states that the independence vote should be "legal, fair, and decisive" and that "there should only be one question". The text adds: "I want the referendum sooner rather than later and do not see the need to wait almost three years."

Mr Moore said the SNP had a standard text on its website "that talks about wanting to have two questions and allowing the timetable to run to 2014".

The standard text on the SNP website reads: "I support the suggested wording of the question: 'Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country'. This is clear and fair. I agree that the referendum should be held in autumn 2014."

The SNP standard text does not mention a second question but other pages on the website state that the Scottish Government is "willing to include a 'devo-max' (enhanced devolution) option" on the paper.

Mr Moore also said just over 100 responses to the UK Government consultation were anonymous and about 100 were "duplicate responses".

He rejected Scottish Government Strategy Minister Bruce Crawford's call for the UK consultation to be subject to "independent scrutiny", saying: "I don't believe it's necessary and let's not forget, Bruce has got a problem created by the Scottish Government itself. It's not a problem we have had in any great numbers. We have taken out those that are anonymous, those that are duplicate.

"I'm very happy that our numbers are robust. I'm very happy that we've got a good reflection of what people across Scotland think about these key issues."

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