Election Watchdog Simplifies Question in Scots Independence Vote

Voters in Scotland will be asked “yes or no” to whether the country should be independent in next year’s referendum after the Electoral Commission recommended simplifying the question to ensure neutrality.

The proposal from the U.K. election watchdog differs from the one put forward last year by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who wanted to ask voters whether they “agreed” that Scotland should be independent. The two main groups campaigning for and against independence also should be allowed to spend 1.5 million pounds ($2.37 million) each in the 16 weeks before the vote, the Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.

Salmond and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron agreed in Edinburgh last year to hold the referendum by the end of 2014. The semi-autonomous Scottish government, run by Salmond’s pro-independence Scottish National Party, said today it will adopt the Electoral Commission’s proposals.

“I am delighted with the conclusion the Electoral Commission has reached on the question,” Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is spearheading the “yes” campaign, said in the statement. “I am also pleased with the spending limits proposed. They deliver a level playing field and will allow a fair and balanced debate on both sides.”

The spending limits are twice the 750,000 pounds proposed by the SNP. Expenditure by individual political parties will be based on the votes they received at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections, in which the SNP won a majority.

Canvassing Opinion

The Electoral Commission consulted academics, politicians, voters and campaigners on the wording of the question to ensure that it was simple, unambiguous and neutral, it said in the statement. It took 12 weeks from receiving the request from the Scottish government on Oct. 5 to carry out the assessment.

Support for independence in Scotland is at its lowest since the country got a devolved government in 1999. Backing for independence fell to 23 percent last year from 32 percent in 2011, according to the annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

The U.K. and Scottish governments should jointly tell voters ahead of the referendum what might happen in both potential outcomes of the vote, the commission said today.

Salmond said previously he would consider a third option of extra power for Scotland without full independence, though the idea was rejected by Cameron’s government. Salmond won the right to extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.