Rules on spending and donations for Scottish independence referendum begin today

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Today (Friday 30 May) marks the start of the formal ‘referendum period’ which means spending rules are now in force for campaigners up until polling day, says the Electoral Commission.

The formal ‘referendum period’ begins today and runs for 16 weeks, until the close of poll on Thursday 18 September.

The rules, which were set by the Scottish Parliament as part of the referendum legislation, mean that:

  • No individual or organisation can spend more than £10,000 on campaigning during the referendum period unless they are registered with the
    Electoral Commission as a ‘permitted participant’.
  • Campaigners must keep to spending limits set out in law.
  • Campaigners that are registered with the Electoral Commission must report any donations over £7,500 that they have received. These will be published over the summer.
  • Campaigners must only accept donations and loans from permissible sources.

The start of the ‘referendum period’ means there are now limits on how much campaigners can spend. ‘Yes Scotland’ and ‘Better Together’ – as designated lead campaigners – have a maximum spending limit of £1.5 million. Political parties have spending limits based on their share of the vote at the last Scottish Parliament election. Other campaigners who register with the Electoral Commission can spend up to £150,000.

Commenting on how the ‘referendum period’ rules will be enforced, John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland said:

“Campaigners have a vital role to play at any referendum as they set out competing views for voters to choose between. At the same time, voters will want to be confident that campaigners are playing by the rules and that there is transparency about how the campaigns are funded. We’ve been working with campaigners to make sure they understand their responsibilities and can comply with the rules and we will be monitoring their activities closely.

“The Electoral Commission has well-established procedures for handling allegations around donations and spending. When it receives substantive allegations, the Commission will seek to determine whether there’s been a breach of the rules as quickly as possible and, if necessary, will take action to bring the campaigner into compliance. The Scottish Parliament has provided the Commission with a range of flexible powers and sanctions to enable it to regulate the rules proportionately and effectively.

“The Commission will not normally comment on any cases which are ongoing but will publish information in relation to completed cases on the Commission’s website.”