Nicola Sturgeon’s second independence referendum plans were dealt a blow yesterday by a Holyrood report demanding the elections watchdog scrutinises the question.
The report compiled unanimously by the parliament’s cross-party finance committee said Ms Sturgeon’s Referendum Bill had to be changed to allow any question to be tested by the Electoral Commission.
Ms Sturgeon’s Referendum Bill had proposed when a question had already been tested there was no need to do so again.
In the 2014 referendum, voters were asked to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?”
The SNP wanted the electorate to be asked the same question in the event of indyref2, having built their campaign around the word “yes” last time around.
The Nationalists’ opponents believe a question framed for a “Leave/Remain” answer, similar to the EU referendum, is preferable. After 2014, the Electoral Commission found a Yes/No answer could result in bias in favour of a “positive” Yes response.
The committee’s report yesterday said Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell should recognise “the weight of evidence in favour of the Electoral Commission testing a previously used referendum question and must come to an agreement based on this evidence with the Electoral Commission”.
The Scottish Conservatives described the report as a “devastating blow” to the first minister’s plans.
Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “The Scottish Conservatives are clear, we will oppose the SNP’s relentless pursuit of Indyref2 every step of the way.
“MSPs have been damning of Sturgeon’s arrogant efforts to by-pass the Electoral Commission. Nicola Sturgeon has been stopped in her tracks.”
SNP MSP Tom Arthur, who sits on the committee, welcomed the committee’s endorsement of the principles of the Referendum Bill and claimed it was “widely accepted” that a second poll would take place.
Mr Arthur added: “Introducing a framework to set out the way that future referendums will be run provides clarity about what the process will be for voters, campaigners, and administrators – to ensure that any referendum can proceed in a transparent and democratic matter.”