UK government warned against a referendum ‘power grab’

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by G.A.Ponsonby

The SNP has described as ‘gun-boat politics’ a threat by the UK government to wrest control of the independence referendum from a Scottish Referendum Commission and hand it over to a UK body.

Conservative Scotland Office minister David Mundell, seen here with David Cameron and Annabel Goldie, yesterday warned that the UK Government could legislate for the Electoral Commission to run the referendum instead of allowing the body set up by the Scottish parliament to police the ballot.

Speaking in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Mr Mundell said: “Whatever Alex Salmond may wish, we can’t simply set aside the legal and procedural formalities that will be required for a referendum of this significance.

“That’s why the UK Government is seeking comprehensive legal advice, because even if we didn’t raise a challenge, third parties might.  There are issues to consider, such as the wording of the question and the franchise, which is where the Electoral Commission might have to be given a statutory role.”

Mr Mundell added it is “vital” to open a dialogue with the Scottish Government on the issue.

The remarks were condemned by the SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil who described them as “ridiculous” and insisted that the referendum would be the “gold standard” in terms of transparency and rules.

Mr MacNeil said:

“A referendum in Scotland is clearly a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Government – the most democratic forum for decision making in Scotland.

“The Con/Dem coalition at Westminster are all over the place – their position changes from day to day, and from week to week. David Cameron has said this is a matter for the Scottish Parliament.  Is David Mundell challenging him over that?

“It is ridiculous that the sole Tory MP in Scotland and the junior minister at the Scotland Office should be engaging in this sort of gun-boat politics, when the Tories have just notched up their worst ever election result north of the Border.

“And given its lamentable record on regulating the banks and the press, the very last thing we need is Westminster grabbing control of Scotland’s referendum.”

Mr MacNeil pointed out that the issues have already been addressed and that an independent Scottish Referendum Commission, accountable to Holyrood – should be established to fulfil the regulatory role.

Mr MacNeil added:

“The draft Bill proposed limits on permissible donations and campaign spending in order to ensure a level playing field, based on existing UK legislation covering elections and referendums – including no public funding of campaigning.

“This clear democratic process – not a Westminster power grab – is the proper way forward for Scotland.”