Let the Electoral Commission decide Independence Referendum question

SINCE my last Evening Times column, the Westminster Parliament has debated and passed a very important piece of legislation – the Parliamentary Order that has transferred the responsibility and legal ability to hold a referendum on Scotland's constitutional future to the Scottish Parliament.

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When I joined the Labour Party it was to fight against the causes of poverty and inequality and discrimination wherever they lie and to promote equality of opportunity, regardless of a person's background.

I had no idea at the time that one of the first big fights of my political life would be to stop the break-up of my country.

The referendum vote will be the biggest decision any of us will take in more than 300 years and that is why the terms and tone of the debate are so important.

I want to be clear: the SNP has the right to hold a referendum. It won the election and has the right to ask the question.

But, equally, the people of Scotland have a right to answer that question in a way that is open, transparent and fair.

Scotland deserves nothing less than a Scottish Government that will put the country's interests before its own and ensure the will of the people of Scotland comes before all else.

So it is very concerning to see the reluctance of the SNP and the Scottish Government to commit to accepting the decision of the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission is independent, experienced and trusted. Its only motivation is ensuring a fair outcome.

Its two key areas of consideration are very important to the fairness of the referendum; the impartiality of the question and ensuring the spending limits are appropriate to allow a full and informed debate.

There is disagreement over the wording, with many arguing it is a leading question skewed to a particular result. I say let the Electoral Commission decide.

It will test the question and any advice offered will not be supposition or political assertion, but based on evidence and the result of rigorous testing.

The SNP has already proposed spending limits of less than those available to council candidates from each party during last May's council elections.

Is the SNP seriously suggesting the referendum on the future of Scotland is less important than that of electing your local councillor?

After its 2011 Holyrood victory the SNP has an overall majority in the chamber and in the Parliament's committees. So with the passing of the Parliamentary Order a heavy responsibility now lies with the Scottish Government.

The majority places a greater responsibility on the party of Government to act responsibly and live up to the highest of ideals: to be judged not as just members of the SNP, or as Members of the Scottish Parliament, but as democrats.

Because if done right the legacy – whatever the referendum outcome – can be a Parliament we can all be proud of and a result we can all have faith in.

The people of Scotland deserve nothing less.

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