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Poll question agreed but voters demand answers

SCOTLAND'S independence referendum watchdog has called for clarity about the steps that would follow a Yes or No vote after discovering widespread confusion among voters.

JOHN McCORMICK: Said clarity must be provided.
JOHN McCORMICK: Said clarity must be provided.

The Electoral Commission urged the Scottish and UK governments to work together to spell out what would happen in the immediate aftermath of the vote in autumn 2014.

It came as the Scottish Government agreed to change its referendum question after the independent body warned the planned wording for ballot papers was potentially biased in favour of a Yes vote.

Ministers also endorsed recommendations on campaign spending limits, which will now potentially give the pro-independence parties a slight advantage.

The commission went further than expected in its report on the referendum.

It said focus groups revealed confusion among voters about the immediate consequences of the poll.

Testers found people understood independence. But they were unclear about the process and timetable for negotiating Scotland's exit from the UK should Scots vote Yes, or what would happen after a No vote.

John McCormick, the Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said people wanted "information in advance about what will happen".

He added: "We're asking the UK and Scottish governments to provide that clarity."

The commission hopes to provide details in leaflets if the two governments can agree a joint position.

It said it was not calling on them to pre-negotiate the terms of an independence settlement.

But it added: "Clarity about how the terms of independence will be decided would help voters understand how the competing claims made by campaigners before the referendum will be resolved."

A Yes vote would herald negotiations on issues from Scotland's share of military hardware to conditions for keeping the pound and whether bodies like the DVLA could continue to operate across the Border. Similar talks would be required to determine EU membership terms.

The SNP expects negotiations between 2014 and 2016 but it is unclear whether independence could formally be declared by then, despite First Minister Alex Salmond's promise to make that the year of Scotland's first independent Holyrood election.

No formal action would be required after a No vote. However, all the main pro-UK political parties are considering plans for increased devolution.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to engage in talks to identify the issues up for negotiation and the legislation required for independence.

She said: "I have been calling for the UK Government to enter discussions to allow the voters to be better informed, but so far they have refused.

"This would not be pre-negotiation on the terms of independence but vital information for voters that will allow them to make an informed choice."

Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, said the UK Government would provide further details of the post-referendum process next month, which he offered to discuss with Ms Sturgeon.

He added: "We are pleased the commission recognises independence cannot be pre-negotiated and voters must have a better understanding of the huge changes becoming a separate country would entail."

Prime Minister David Cameron also promised to work with the Scottish Government at Prime Minister's Questions.

But he added: "We will not pre-negotiate Scotland's exit from the United Kingdom."

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