UK Government must agree to pre-referendum talks

The Scottish National Party has warmly welcomed the recommendation of the Electoral Commission urging the Scottish and UK governments to agree a “joint position” before the referendum, “so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum”, whether it is a Yes or No.

This Commission recommendation fully supports the call by the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for pre-referendum discussions between the two governments about the issues which would require to be negotiated after a Yes vote – and therefore directly contradicts the stance of the UK Government, which has rejected such talks.

SNP MSP Bruce Crawford – who chairs the Referendum Bill Committee – said:

“This is a landmark recommendation by the Electoral Commission – which they base on the Edinburgh Agreement – and one which the UK Government must immediately commit to. The Tory-led government at Westminster and the No campaign have said time and again that the Electoral Commission recommendations must be implemented in full – therefore they must abandon their obstructionist stance of rejecting pre-referendum talks to prepare for a possible Yes result, in line with the Commission’s recommendation at paragraph 5.43.

“Unless they accept this recommendation without equivocation, and agree to pre-referendum talks with the Scottish Government, the Tory-led government will stand accused of tainting the process.”

Notes:

* In making this recommendation, the Electoral Commission report at paragraph 5.40 specifically draws a link with paragraph 30 of last October’s Edinburgh Agreement between Holyrood and Westminster, which commits the two governments “to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”

* The relevant sections of the Electoral Commission report are here:

5.40 As part of the Edinburgh agreement the UK and Scottish Governments have agreed to work together whatever the outcome of the referendum. In its consultation paper on the referendum, the Scottish Government set out its plans for the steps it would take after the referendum following a ‘Yes’ vote and a date when it intends independence would take effect, although no detailed timetable is included in the consultation paper. The Edinburgh Agreement does not include steps to be taken following the poll.

5.41 In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, there would be a range of issues to be resolved within the UK and internationally about the terms of independence. Although we would not expect the terms of independence to be agreed between the two governments before the vote, clarity about how the terms of independence will be decided would help voters understand how the competing claims made by referendum campaigners before the referendum will be resolved.

5.42 We recommend that the UK and Scottish Governments should clarify what process will follow the referendum in sufficient detail to inform people what will happen if most voters vote ‘Yes’ and what will happen if most voters vote ‘No’.

5.43 We recommend that both Governments should agree a joint position, if possible, so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum. The alternative - two different explanations – could cause confusion for voters rather than make things clearer.

5.44 This information would help voters understand what would happen after the referendum, whatever the outcome, and how any competing claims made about independence during the campaigns would be resolved.

* The UK Government and opposition parties are on the record on many occasions saying that the Electoral Commission recommendations and “judgement” must be implemented in full. For example, as Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has said: “To over-rule its judgment would invite the charge of rigging and bias – tainting the process.”

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