Electoral Commission rules out monitoring of indy campaign literature


  By a Newsnet reporter

Literature circulated by official campaign groups representing both sides in the independence referendum will not be monitored for factual accuracy.

The Electoral Commission has confirmed that in keeping with its current responsibilities, it will not be seeking to extend its remit to include checking leaflets and other literature for accuracy and honesty.

Speaking to Newsnet Scotland, a spokesperson explained that it was the Commission’s view that voters should decide the merit or otherwise of claims made in literature circulated by both the Yes and No camps and that to try to police content could undermine the Electoral Commission’s impartiality.

“The Commission is an independent body tasked with regulating the rules on campaign spending, donations and loans at the referendum.  However, we do not have a remit to regulate the accuracy of the content of political campaign communications and materials, whether at referendums or elections.” A spokesperson told Newsnet Scotland.

Asked, given the significance of the independence referendum, whether the Commission believed it should seek an extension to its remit to include campaign literature, the spokesperson added: “We do not think that any role in policing the truthfulness of referendum campaign arguments would be appropriate for the Commission.  It would be very likely to draw the Commission into political debate, significantly affecting the perception of our independent role.”

Confirmation that both sides will be able to publish free from official scrutiny will dismay many in the Yes camp.  Last weekend it emerged that the official No campaign were handing out leaflets which contained false claims relating the views of the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney.

Mr Carney had visited Scotland days before, and in a speech on a possible currency union had made it clear he would not be passing judgement on the currency plans of either the Edinburgh based Government or the London based Government.

He said: “What follows is not an assessment of whether Scotland will be overall better or worse off under independence – that is a multi-faceted judgement for the Scottish people.  It does not pass judgement on the relative merits of the different currency options for an independent Scotland,”

However, despite the clear statement from the Bank of England Chief, within days of the speech the Better Together campaign were circulating leaflets which claimed Mr Carney had attacked the currency plans of Alex Salmond.

The leaflet said: “With experts, including the Governor of the Bank of England, criticising Alex Salmond’s claim that we would keep the pound after independence, it is increasingly clear that if we leave the UK we would lose the UK pound.”

Asked to comment on the claims contained in the leaflet, a spokesman for the bank of England said pointedly of Mr Carney’s statement: “These remarks are on the public record and speak for themselves.”

There is growing concern amongst many pro-independence campaigners over the number of false claims being made by the official No campaign and other leading anti-independence figures.

Last year the Better Together campaign continued to circulate leaflets boasting about the UK’s triple-A credit rating, despite agencies having downgraded the rating due to worries over the UK’s growing debt problem.

Other episodes have witnessed head of Better Together Alistair Darling deny ever having said that a currency agreement between the rest of the UK and a newly independent Scotland was in the interests of both sides, despite having been filmed saying so on the BBC.

Last week, Newsnet Scotland revealed that claims about the Norwegian Oil Fund made by Better Together campaign co-ordinator Blair McDougall had been rubbished by the Norwegian Finance Department.

McDougall told listeners to a radio phone in programme that: “Norway affords paying into its oil fund because it has much, much higher taxes than we have here in Scotland.”

However Mr McDougall’s claim that higher taxes were needed in order to establish a fund were dismissed by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

A spokesman said: “According to OECD data Norway has higher total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP than does the United Kingdom. See http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=REV

“Norway has a system where all petroleum (oil and gas) revenues are transferred to the Government Pension Fund Global, irrespective of total Government revenue.  Every year, the Norwegian parliament approves a budget which states how much should be transferred from the Fund over the budget.

“Over time we expect this number to be around 4% of the Fund value – irrespective of the size of Norway’s total budget revenue.  This is reflected in the so called Fiscal Policy Rule.”