By Martin Kelly
The Scottish government has published the response to its referendum consultation today as a row escalated over accusations by the Labour party that First Minister Alex Salmond was a “bare faced liar”.
One week after the historic Edinburgh Agreement, signed by the Scottish and UK Governments, analysis of the 26,000 responses was finally revealed.
The consultation, which drew the third largest response since devolution began, showed broad support for the positions secured by the SNP Government in the Edinburgh Agreement.
There was substantial backing for the proposed wording and timing of the referendum, votes for 16 and 17 year olds and for “equitable” campaign spending limits. However, a majority of respondents opposed a second question on the ballot paper while a narrow majority were in favour of the possibility of voting on a Saturday.
The consultation was open to anyone with an interest in the 2014 referendum, but like other consultations; it does not represent a scientific poll of the Scottish electorate.
The final analysis revealed that:
- 64% of respondents agreed with the Scottish government’s wording for the question.
- 62% broadly agreed with the Scottish government’s proposed timetable and voting arrangements.
- 62% were against including a second question on the ballot paper, 32% were broadly in favour.
- 46% broadly agreed with holding the referendum on a Saturday and 32% did not.
- 56% broadly agreed with extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and 41% did not.
Today’s publication comes on the back of polling this weekend showing a gap of just eight points between support for an independent Scotland at 37 per cent for Yes to 45 per cent for No, which falls to a gap of just four points if people believe the Labour Party will win the 2015 election, and becomes a twelve point lead for Yes if people think the Conservative Party will win.
Commenting, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said:
“The Scottish Government’s consultation drew in a massive response from people who wanted a say in Scotland’s future.
“The overwhelming call was for Scotland’s referendum to proceed exactly on the basis that the SNP Government secured in the Edinburgh Agreement.
“There could scarcely be a clearer demonstration of which side had the desires of the people in Scotland at the forefront of their minds during the negotiation.
“With agreement secured on where decisions on shaping the referendum will be made, the focus of both sides in the debate should now be on the visions for Scotland that both sides have.
“People in Scotland are faced with a choice between an independent Scotland where the progress that has been made by the Scottish Parliament can be built on or the dismal offering of the anti-independence parties that would see those advances rolled back and undermined.”
Meanwhile, Labour MSP Paul Martin has accused the First Minister of being a “bare faced liar” after Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish government was also now seeking specific legal advice on an independent Scotland’s place in the EU.
In her statement, the Deputy First Minister said that last week’s agreement between the Scottish and UK government’s meant that specific advice on the status of a newly independent Scotland could now be sought.
She said: “The Scottish government has previously cited opinions from a number of eminent legal authorities, past and present, in support of its view that an independent Scotland will continue in membership of the European Union – but has not sought specific legal advice.
“However, as the Edinburgh Agreement provides the exact context of the process of obtaining independence, we now have the basis on which specific legal advice can be sought.”
Ms Sturgeon also revealed that the Scottish government would not now be appealing the decision by the Information Commissioner who ruled that they should reveal whether they had specifically sought legal advice.
She added: “Given that my statement today answers the ruling of the Information Commissioner on the existence of legal advice, there is now no need for the government to pursue an appeal against this ruling in this specific case and I have asked our lawyers to advise the court accordingly and to ask that the appeal be dismissed.
“I should also make clear that, in confirming that the government has now asked for law officers’ advice, I have both sought and received the prior agreement of the Lord Advocate.”
However the Labour party have claimed that the First Minister, in an interview in March, admitted he had already receiving advice.
This brought an angry Mr Salmond back to the chamber to point out the context of the interview referred to documents already in the public domain and on general debate on Scotland’s EU status on which legal advice had already been received and not, as his opponents claimed, on the specific status of an independent Scotland’s EU membership.
Mr Salmond also pointed out that press releases issued by the Labour party had omitted a very significant segment of the interview in question.
First Minister’s statement to the chamber – followed by BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan’s immediate reaction.