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Scotland's Future: Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper



This consultation paper sets out proposals for a Referendum (Scotland) Bill. The draft Bill set out in the appendix to this paper provides the framework for the conduct of the referendum. The Scottish Government plans to introduce the Bill in 2010 and will be seeking the agreement of the Scottish Parliament that the referendum should be held as soon as possible.

- The Ballot PapersChapter 1

The Scottish Government believes that Scotland's future interests would be best served by it assuming all of the responsibilities and rights of a normal European state. Independence would give the Scottish Parliament and Government full responsibility for those matters currently reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament and Government, including key economic and political powers and the right of representation for Scotland in the European Union. Other aspects of an independent Scotland would remain the same. Her Majesty The Queen would remain as Head of State and the social union with the remainder of the UK would be maintained, with the nations continuing to co-operate on a range of matters.

However, the Scottish Government acknowledges that there is also support for extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in more limited ways. The draft Bill would provide the people of Scotland with the opportunity to vote on two questions:

  • the first about an extension of the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, short of independence;
  • the second about whether the Scottish Parliament should also have its powers extended to enable independence to be achieved.

The Scottish Government invites views on two possible options for the first question, one of which would be included on the referendum ballot paper. The first option, full devolution (sometimes called "devolution max"), would give the Scottish Parliament and Government responsibility for almost all domestic matters and most revenues and public spending in Scotland. The UK Parliament and Government would continue to have responsibility for defence, foreign affairs, financial regulation, monetary policy and the currency.

The second option for the first question would involve a more limited extension of devolution based on the financial recommendations made by the Commission on Scottish Devolution (the "Calman Commission") in June 2009. The Scottish Parliament would have the following additional responsibilities:

  • responsibility to set a Scottish rate of Income Tax, which could vary by up to 10p in the pound from the rate in the rest of the UK;
  • power to set the rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax and other minor taxes, and to introduce new taxes in Scotland with the agreement of the UK Parliament; and
  • limited power to borrow money.

The Scottish Government believes that these Calman Commission proposals for financial devolution are seriously flawed and fall far short of the fiscal responsibilities which the Scottish Parliament requires. It believes that they also fall short of what would normally be seen as requiring a referendum. Indeed, those parties who took part in the Calman Commission have made clear their view that a referendum on these proposals is not necessary. However, the Income Tax proposal goes further than the tax-varying power which resulted from the vote in the second question in the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum. Therefore the Scottish Government can see that there is an argument for including the Calman financial recommendations within a multi-option referendum and that approach is put forward here for consideration.

Chapter 1 also considers possible voting methods for a multi-option referendum. The method proposed - two questions with yes/no answers - is simple, provides a definitive result and is the same as that used in the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution. A "yes" result for either question would be on the basis of a simple majority (more than 50%) of votes cast.

The referendum will be advisory, in that it will have no legislative effect. However, the Scottish Government would expect the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the respective Governments to listen to the views of the Scottish people and act on them.

- Mechanics of the ReferendumChapter 2

The proposed rules about the conduct of the poll are based on those applying to the conduct of elections to the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament and local councils. The referendum will be a traditional ballot-box poll held on a single day, with votes counted by hand, and a national declaration of the result. The Chief Counting Officer will be appointed by the Scottish Ministers and must be an existing or former returning officer for elections in Scotland.

The total cost of conducting the referendum is likely to be around £9.5 million, the bulk of which will be spent on running the poll and the count. Proportionately this is comparable to the estimated cost of as much as £120 million for the Alternative Vote referendum proposed by the UK Government for the whole of the UK.

The draft Bill follows the precedent of the 1997 referendum in that eligibility to vote is based on that for Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections. This is consistent with the internationally accepted principle that constitutional referendums should have a franchise determined by residency. The only departure from the 1997 franchise is that the draft Bill extends the vote to those aged 16 or 17 who are on the electoral register on the date of the poll. This is in line with the Scottish Government view that the voting age should be reduced to 16 for all elections.

- Regulating the CampaignChapter 3

The draft Bill includes rules to ensure that the referendum campaigns are run in a demonstrably fair and transparent manner. The rules are largely based on existing UK legislation.

The draft Bill creates a Scottish Referendum Commission to monitor the referendum. The Commission will, with limited exceptions, be completely independent of the Scottish Parliament and Government in the conduct of its affairs. The Commission's functions will include publishing guidance for voters, Counting Officers, individuals and organisations campaigning in the referendum, observing the conduct of the poll and count, and reporting to the Scottish Parliament.

The draft Bill provides that an individual or organisation wishing to spend more than £3,000 on campaigning for a particular outcome must register with the Commission as a 'permitted participant'. A 'permitted participant' may apply to the Commission to be the principal campaigner (the 'designated organisation') for an outcome in the referendum. In order to ensure a level playing field, the draft Bill imposes the spending limits shown in the table.

Campaign spending limits

Type of Organisation

Proposed spending limit

Designated organisation 1


Political party represented in the Scottish Parliament


Other permitted participants


Individuals or bodies that are not permitted participants


The draft Bill does not provide for any public funding for those who wish to campaign.

The draft Bill provides that, for the 28-day period before the referendum, the Scottish Ministers and certain public authorities in Scotland cannot publish material about the referendum which might influence its outcome.


This consultation is your opportunity to shape the referendum on Scotland's constitutional future. Chapter 4 explains how to respond. The deadline for responses is Friday 30 April 2010.