Public Law

In January of this year Charles posted a series of blogs on challenging a Referendum Bill. Having no doubt read the posts Alex Salmond and David Cameron agreed a deal in Edinburgh today meaning that no such challenge will now take place. You can see the two leaders shaking hands on the deal here. A cross looking Charles is out of shot…

All joking aside, the agreement is an interesting compromise between the positions of the “yes” and “no” camps. The United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government have agreed to work together to ensure the referendum can take place but it will be the Scottish Parliament that passes the referendum legislation. There had been some debate as to whether such legislation was within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. In order to put that question beyond doubt the UK Parliament will pass an Order in Council under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.

The Order will have a clause in it which provides that the date of the referendum should be no later than 31 December 2014.

The referendum legislation will also set out:

  • the date of the referendum (expected to be Autumn 2014);
  • the franchise (expected to be extended by the Scottish Parliament to 16 and 17 year olds);
  • the wording of the question (only one question that is “fair, easy to understand and capable of producing a result that is accepted and commands confidence” will be on the ballot paper);
  • rules on campaign financing; and
  • other rules for the conduct of the referendum.

The Electoral Commission will review the proposed question and regulate the referendum campaign including campaign spending – the latter is likely to be highly contested with “yes” camp favouring tighter controls on spending than the “no” camp.

The section 30 Order should be passed by the UK Parliament in early 2013 with the Scottish Parliament introducing a Referendum Bill shortly after.

Niall McLean