New report on the Scotland referendum can offer lessons for future referendums say Electoral Commission

Scottish referendum campaigner information

The Electoral Commission has today published its report on the regulation of campaigners at the Scottish independence referendum.

The Commission has found that the regulatory framework at the referendum worked well overall and makes recommendations that could help to inform the way in which future referendums are planned.

The report highlights that the Commission’s approach to provide advice and guidance in the first instance, supported by the availability of the Commission’s investigatory powers worked well to ensure a high level of compliance with the referendum rules.

These rules also ensured that in most cases the regulatory burden on campaigners was minimised whilst also maintaining high levels of transparency in the interests of the voter.

Today’s report is the Commission’s second statutory report on the Scottish independence referendum. The Commission published its first report on the conduct of the referendum in December 2014. This report can be accessed here.

Key spending facts and figures

  • 42 campaigners registered during the campaign period, 21 indicating they supported the yes outcome to the question asked, 21 supporting the no side.
  • Registered campaigners reported spending a total of £6,664,980 campaigning at the independence referendum
  • Registered campaigners reported having received donations and loans totalling £7,318,545.
  • Out of total reported spending of nearly £7 million, there was a difference of just over £400,000 in total campaign spending by registered campaigners on each of the two sides of the debate. Campaigners supporting a Yes outcome reported spending in total £3,118,772 and campaigners supporting a No outcome reported spending a total of £3,546,208.
  • Both designated lead campaigners reported spending almost exactly the same amounts campaigning at the independence referendum: Better Together reported spending £1,422,602; and Yes Scotland reported spending £1,420,800. That is 95%of their spending limits.
  • In total, all those registered to campaign on each side of the debate reported spending over 70% of their total combined individual limits.
  • There were varying set spending limits for political parties. Overall, they also reported spending relatively similar combined amounts in support of each outcome (around £1.3m) which represented 84% of their total combined individual limits.

The Commission applied its enforcement procedures for the referendum, including working with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal.

The Commission’s approach to helping ensure campaigners understood and followed the rules, with campaigners aware of the Commission’s willingness to use its investigatory and sanctioning powers, meant that overall levels of compliance were very high. There was a high level of voluntary cooperation from campaigners which meant that it was only necessary to issue one sanction.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland said:

This report serves to highlight that the Scottish independence referendum remains a good example of a well-run referendum. The lessons learnt in Scotland should provide an excellent template for how future referendums should be legislated for, administered and regulated.

The report includes a number of recommendations leading on from those made in the Commission’s previous report. The recommendations in today’s report are informed by the required post-referendum returns from campaigners.

The Commission makes recommendations in the following areas:

  • regulating campaigners that work together
  • regulating loans
  • reporting low-level spending
  • reporting pre-registration spending
  • late claims and payments, and
  • the ability of campaigners to check the permissibility of donations and loans.

The full report and recommendations can be read here.

For further information contact Megan Phillips in the Electoral Commission press office:

Extra notes

Notes to editors

  • The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. 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 regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  • The Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 set out a number of Scottish referendum responsibilities for the Commission, for which we report directly to the Scottish Parliament. This includes reporting to the Scottish Parliament on the spending and casework of the referendum.
  • The Commission had been granted a role in regulating and monitoring compliance with the rules on spending under the Scotland Independence Referendum Act 2013.
  • The Commission issued one sanction. We imposed a discretionary requirement, a variable monetary penalty of £500, on the Communication Workers Union as it exceeded the registration threshold of £10,000 before registering with us as a campaigner.
  • The Electoral Commission’s press release issued alongside the first report on the referendum can be viewed here
  • Data visualisations of the spending by campaigners at the referendum can be viewed here