Electoral Commission sets out views on Scottish Government's draft referendum bill

Addressing the Scottish Government's draft referendum bill

The Electoral Commission has today (24 November) responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its draft referendum bill. As well as addressing the specific questions raised in the consultation paper, the Commission has made a number of additional recommendations based on its experience of the recent EU referendum.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said:

The draft legislation builds on the measures that worked well at the 2014 independence referendum and already reflects many of the recommendations for improvement we made following that vote. Based on our experience of the recent EU referendum we have highlighted some further improvements that could be made to strengthen the regulation and administration of any future poll in Scotland.

Key points made in the Commission’s response include that:

  • Any future referendum should not be held on the same day as other significant or scheduled polls. The Scottish Government should also ensure that any legislation is in place at least six months before it is needed. This relates not just to issues affecting the administration of the poll, but also any legislation relating to the regulation of campaigners.
  • The restrictions on the publication of promotional material by Scottish Ministers and some publicly funded bodies in the run up to any referendum should be revisited to make clear which activities are restricted, and when the restrictions apply. This should include consideration of who is responsible for enforcing the restrictions and what penalties would apply for any breach of the restrictions. The Commission would expect the UK Government to publicly commit to abide by the same restrictions as the Scottish Government.
  • The Electoral Commission should be asked to review the intelligibility of any proposed referendum question, whether the wording is the same or different to that used for the 2014 independence referendum. This is so that the Scottish Parliament’s scrutiny of any referendum bill can be informed by any relevant or new factors they should consider at the point the Bill is being debated.

The Commission’s response also makes a number of detailed technical recommendations in regard to the regulation of campaigning at any future referendum. The full response can be found here: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/218121/Response-to-SG-consultation-on-draft-referendum-bill.pdf

For further information contact Sarah Mackie:

Extra notes

Notes to editor

  • The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up in 2000. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections, and are responsible for the conduct and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  • The Electoral Commission has specific responsibilities and functions in relation to the delivery and regulation of referendums held under PPERA, which applies to any referendum Bill brought before the UK Parliament unless specifically stated otherwise.
  • The Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 gave the Commission a number of responsibilities for the 2014 Scottish referendum for which we reported directly to the Scottish Parliament. This included reporting to the Scottish Parliament on the conduct of the referendum.