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The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?
Eighth Report of Session 201012

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HC 1492

Scottish Affairs Committee

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House of Commons

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Report, together with formal minutes
Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 26 April 2012

The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?
Eighth Report of Session 201012

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HC 1492

Scottish Affairs Committee

Published on 08 May 2012 by authority of the House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Limited 0.00

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House of Commons

The Scottish Affairs Committee


The Scottish Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Scotland Office (including (i) relations with the Scottish Parliament and (ii) administration and expenditure of the offices of the Advocate General for Scotland (but excluding individual cases and advice given within government by the Advocate General)). Current membership Mr Ian Davidson MP (Labour/Co-op, Glasgow South West) (Chair) Fiona Bruce MP (Conservative, Congleton) Mike Freer MP (Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green) Jim McGovern MP (Labour, Dundee West) Iain McKenzie MP (Labour, Inverclyde) David Mowat MP (Conservative, Warrington South) Pamela Nash MP (Labour, Airdrie and Shotts) Simon Reevell MP (Conservative, Dewsbury) Mr Alan Reid MP (Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute) Lindsay Roy MP (Labour, Glenrothes) Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan)

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The following members were also members of the committee during the parliament: Cathy Jamieson MP (Labour/Co-op, Kilmarnock and Loudoun) Mark Menzies MP (Conservative, Fylde) Graeme Morrice MP (Labour, Livingston) Fiona ODonnell MP (Labour, East Lothian) Julian Smith MP (Conservative, Skipton and Ripon) Powers The committee is one of the departmental select committees, the powers of which are set out in House of Commons Standing Orders, principally in SO No 152. These are available on the internet via www.parliament.uk. Publication The Reports and evidence of the Committee are published by The Stationery Office by Order of the House. All publications of the Committee (including press notices) are on the internet at www.parliament.uk/scotaffcom. A list of Reports of the Committee in the present Parliament is at the back of this volume. The Reports of the Committee, the formal minutes relating to that report, oral evidence taken and some or all written evidence are available in a printed volume. Additional written evidence may be published on the internet only. Committee staff The current staff of the Committee are Mr Eliot Wilson (Clerk), Duma Langton (Inquiry Manager), James Bowman (Senior Committee Assistant), Gabrielle Hill (Committee Assistant) and Ravi Abhayaratne (Committee Support Assistant). Contacts All correspondence should be addressed to the Clerk of the Scottish Affairs Committee, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA. The telephone number for general enquiries is 020 7219 6123; the Committees email address is scotaffcom@parliament.uk

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question? 1

Contents
Report
Summary 1 Introduction
The Inquiry Background
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2 The wording of a referendum question
The principles behind a referendum question First draft question proposed by the Scottish Government Second draft question proposed by the Scottish Government The consequences of bias How can a fair question be drafted? Testing proposed questions

Conclusions and recommendations

Annex 1 Annex 2

Formal Minutes

Formal Minutes

List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament

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3 5 5 5 8 8 8 9 10 12 14 18 19 20 22 22 23

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question? 3

Summary

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is biased. Experts told us that this was a leading question, biased towards a yes answer. This will take some time, and therefore it must be started soon. It need not wait until a referendum Bill is drafted. Debate needs to move on to the policies and issues of separation.

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

This is important because wording can affect the result of a referendum. This referendum must be, and be seen to be, fair and acceptable to those on both sides of the argument. It is essential that the result commands wide acceptance. It is now widely agreed that the Electoral Commission is the appropriate body to regulate a referendum and ensure that the wording of the question is clear and fair. This means an exhaustive process of testing of proposed words and how the options are put to the voters.

Accordingly, we recommend that all parties approach the Electoral Commission now, so that proposed question wordings can be tested. The best course is for the parties to agree jointly what question wordings should be put to the Commission. If a consensus cannot be reached, those parties who can agree should approach the Commission together. Our objective is that all can accept the advice of the Commission on a clear and neutral question, which can be incorporated into the legislative process from the very beginning.

Based on the evidence, we have no choice but to conclude that the question:

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In this Report, we consider whether the wording of the referendum question proposed by the Scottish Government is biased, and what should be done to ensure that a fair and clear question is put to the Scottish electorate.

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

Introduction

The Inquiry
1. On 12 October 2011, we launched two separate inquiries on the proposed Referendum

on Separation for Scotland. One focused on the many unanswered questions which

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in advance of a referendum on separation. recommend that early progress should now be made on it. number of complex issues to be resolved, and we will return to them in later Reports. Gallagher.

would need to be addressed if the voters of Scotland were to make an informed choice when they were invited to vote in a referendum. As a result, on 15 February 2012, we published a Report entitled The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Unanswered Questions, which aimed to outline the major policy areas which would need to be debated

2. The second inquiry was concerned with the process and mechanics by which such a

referendum would be organised and conducted. It is an ongoing inquiry, but this Report is the first to arise from it, and it focuses on one narrow but very important aspect of the referendum: the wording of the question. We are issuing the Report now because of the remarkable unanimity of the evidence we received on this point, and because we

3. Although we are issuing a Report now on the wording of the question in a referendum, we continue to inquire into the process and mechanics of such a referendum. We have taken a good deal of oral and written evidence, and will continue to do so. There are a

4. We are grateful to all of those who have given evidence, both written and oral, to our inquiry. We also pay tribute to the excellent work of our specialist adviser, Professor Jim

Background

5. The Scottish National Partys manifesto for the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, Manifesto 2007, promised the publication of a White Paper, encompassing a Bill, detailing the concept of Scottish independence in the modern world as part of preparations for offering Scots the opportunity to decide on independence in a

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

referendum. In February 2010, the Scottish Government published a draft Bill to achieve separation, entitled Scotlands Future: Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper. This document contained three proposals: the first would devolve all matters to the Scottish Parliament except defence and foreign affairs; financial regulation,

monetary policy and the currency; the second would implement the recommendations

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commission set up specifically for the purpose. for the consultation is 11 May 2012.
1 2 The Scottish Government, Your Scotland, Your Referendum, January 2012

of the Calman Commission, to vary income tax and introduce a limited power to borrow money; while the third proposal was for full separation from the UK. The consultation contained a proposed question which was based on extending the Scottish Parliaments powers to allow it to legislate for separation. The referendum would be overseen by a

6. In its manifesto for the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, Re-elect, the SNP pledged to

bring forward a Referendum Bill during the lifetime of the Parliament. In January 2012, the Scottish Government issued a consultation document, Your Scotland, Your Referendum. 1 It set out the Scottish Governments proposals for the question to be asked

and the rules governing the campaign and the vote, and included a draft ballot paper, with a new question: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?, a substantially different question from that proposed in the draft Bill of 2010. The deadline

7. In February 2012, the UK Government published its own consultation paper entitled Scotlands constitutional future: A consultation on facilitating a legal, fair and decisive referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. 2 This was intended to: set out options by which the UK and Scottish Governments can remove the legal barriers to holding a referendum while ensuring that its question, conduct and outcome are fair to those on each side of the debate and to all Scottish voters.

The consultation paper contained the UK Governments views on the potential process of a referendum on separation, especially its view that the Scottish Parliament did not have the

Scotland Office, Scotlands constitutional future: A consultation on facilitating a legal, fair and decisive referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, Cm 8203 January 2012

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

power to legislate for such a referendum, and that, if it did, the matter would inevitably end up in the courts where the legislation was likely to be struck down.

questions) a referendum on separation should ask. The deadline for responses to the

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3 Scotland Office, Scotlands Constitutional future, Responses to the consultation, Cm 8326, April 2012

consultation was 9 March 2012. A summary of the responses was published in April 2012. 3

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8. The consultation set out nine specific questions, one of which was on what question (or

The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

2 The wording of a referendum question


The principles behind a referendum question
9. If there is to be a referendum on separation, the wording of the question is of fundamental importance. In the view of the Electoral Commission the ideal was:

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Ipsos MORI in its written evidence said: It added: apply to any question put to the Scottish people in a referendum on separation.

A question that was easy to understand, to the point and unambiguous. The question [should avoid] leading the voter in one direction or another. 4

Our view is that the referendum question must satisfy two criteria, it must be clear so that voters know exactly what they are being asked and it must be fair so that the results of the referendum are undisputed. 5

We know from years of experience, backed up by academic research, that the wording of an opinion poll question can affect the answers we get. 6

10. Ruth Stevenson set out for the committee the professional standards of question design outlined in good practice guidance provided by the Market Research Society. She proposed that any question should be short, straightforward and clear [...] balanced so as not to lead voters towards a particular response [... and] presented in a manner that does not introduce bias. 7 These principles of clarity and balance are obviously correct and must

First draft question proposed by the Scottish Government

11. The Scottish Ministers have twice proposed a specific question about separation to put to the voters. In 2010, the Scottish Government proposed a question on which it asserted it was legally possible for the Scottish Parliament to legislate. It explained:

Scottish Parliament Legislation must conform to the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998. The Scotland Act has in-built flexibility so that the Scottish Parliament's powers can be extended over time. The Scottish Parliament has a role in such

4 5 6 7

Q 717 (The Referendum on Separation for Scotland, oral and written evidence, HC 1608) Ev 216 ibid. Ev 217

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processes [] It is therefore legitimate for a referendum held under an Act of the Scottish Parliament to ask the people questions related to an extension of its powers insofar as this is within the framework of the Scotland Act. 8

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YES I AGREE NO I DO NOT AGREE 9 neither simple nor clear.

12. This was, the Scottish Government acknowledged, drafted with the aim of satisfying the legislative constraints under which it operated. (The evidence we have heard strongly suggests that even this contrived formulation does not succeed in being legally competent,

but the Committee will deal with that more fully in a subsequent Report.) So it is not surprising that it does not score highly on tests of intelligibility: it is hardly simple, to the point, or unambiguous. It is not even absolutely clear that, if it gained majority support, the consequence would be separation: independence would merely be enabled, the exact meaning of which is unclear. Therefore this convoluted question wholly fails to meet the standards which should be expected of a question which determines a nations future. It is

Second draft question proposed by the Scottish Government

13. The Scottish Ministers have now proposed a different question. In the consultation paper which they produced in response to the UK governments offer to remove the

problem of lack of legislative competence, the Scottish Government put forward a new formulation:

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

This question is undoubtedly shorter and simpler than their first attempt. But in evidence to our inquiry it was uniformly characterised as unfair. Our witnesses agreed that they saw this as a leading question. The eminent pollster Peter Kellner told us that As a pollster, I

8 9

Scotlands Future: Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper, p. 16 ibid., p. 20

The Scottish Government proposes that, in addition to the extension of the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament set out in Proposal 1, the Parliaments powers should also be extended to enable independence to be achieved.

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It therefore proposed the following question:

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try to avoid attitudinal questions to which the answers are yes or no [...] I would say as a pollster, Do you agree or disagree? You offer both options. 10

that sort of question, they would say you were trying to rig the poll. It is a leading

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alternatives. 13 that canteen food is value for money? was biased. lead the respondent towards the answer yes.

The question presented beginning Do you agree fundamentally cannot be balanced if it excludes the words or disagree. That is my primary starting point and fundamental objection to it. 12 Andrew Hawkins, the Chairman of ComRes, said that In the way it is

construed, I do agree it is a biased [question] because it does not present any of the

15. This is an elementary point in question design. In Annex 1, we give an example of a recent GCSE Statistics question in 16-year-olds were asked why the question Do you agree

16. Based on the evidence we have received, we have no choice but to conclude that the question currently proposed by the Scottish Government is biased in that it tends to

The consequences of bias

17. Martin Boon of ICM Research told us that the wording of the question could have a significant effect on the outcome:

You may have seen some public opinion research conducted and commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, which asked three questions. The first one [...] is, Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?, which was yes 41 and no 59. Then he added the word disagree to the statement, and it moved from 41/59 to 39/61. He then presented entirely that kind of option, which was, Should Scotland become an independent country or should it remain part of the United Kingdom?,

10 11 12 13

Q 258 Q 469 Q 816 Q 891

question.11 Other professionals agreed. Martin Boon, of ICM Research, remarked that

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14. Matthew Elliott, of the NOtoAV campaign, put it simply. If you asked a pollster to ask

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and the numbers moved to 33/67 [...] these words will move the Scottish public one way or the other.14 The research to which Mr Boon referred surveyed 3,090 Scottish adults. The full results are

33/67, it is clear that the wording is of vital importance.

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and consider their view in a referendum. wording.16 rules of the referendum. Its consultation paper says:
14 15 16 17 Q 829 Q 258 Ev 217 Your Scotland, your Referendum, p. 5

18. A number of our witnesses pointed out that a referendum was not the same as an opinion poll. Mr Kellner, for example, said that a biased question might not matter as much at the end of a referendum campaign when the voters had heard all the arguments. 15 Other witnesses made the same point: question bias mattered a great deal in surveys as respondents answered a lot of questions quickly, but they would have more time to reflect

19. This, however, misses the central point. A referendum which will decide the future of

the country must be, and be seen to be, scrupulously fair. There must be no scope

afterwards for either side to claim that the process was flawed. This was accepted by our witnesses. For example, Ipsos MORI said It must be seen to be fair so that the losing side in the ballot does not try to discredit or challenge the result on the basis of the question

20. There must no bias whatsoever. Therefore, the process for determining the question should be designed to ensure that is so. Unfortunately, the proposals by the Scottish Ministers are inconsistent with that aim. They are biased towards separation. It is also clear that, as well as setting the question, the Scottish Government wants to set the timing and

It is for the Scottish Government to propose to the Scottish Parliament the timing and terms of the referendum and the rules under which it is to be conducted. The Scottish Parliament should decide these matters. 17

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reproduced in Annex 2. If the wording of the question can change opinion from 41/59 to

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21. This runs wholly contrary to the evidence given to us by the distinguished constitutionalist, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who noted that The players should not also be the referee. 18 Other witnesses agreed. Starting the process by proposing first a contrived question, and then secondly an obviously leading one certainly does not suggest that an SNP administration can be trusted to play the role of referee in this process.

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How can a fair question be drafted?
wholly unacceptable. independent source of advice. We would like to be that source. 22
18 19 20 21 22 Q 353 Q 835 Q 836 Q 898 Q 737

22. The Electoral Commission has a statutory responsibility for regulating referendums in the UK, and has, since its creation, overseen three referendums: on the establishment of a Regional Assembly in the North East of England, on increasing the powers of the Welsh assembly, and on changing the voting system used for electing the House of Commons. In the UK Governments consultation paper, it is proposed that the Electoral Commission should also oversee this referendum, and it seems that the Scottish Government now seems to be willing to amend its initial plans to set up a special, one-off, Commission appointed

by it and reporting to the Scottish Parliament alone to regulate the separation referendum. We welcome this movement because otherwise it would have been seen as a participant wishing to set the rules of the game as well as being a player and would clearly have been

23. Our witnesses thought that the Electoral Commission was the appropriate body to regulate the wording of a referendum question. Martin Boon of ICM Research told us that We have the Electoral Commission in this country and it is an independent Executive body19 , while Nigel Smith concurred that the Commission should comment on any

proposed question. 20 Mark Diffley of Ipsos MORI believed that the Electoral Commission will have a key role. 21 The Commission itself told us that clarity to us means that it is an

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24. There was consensus among our witnesses that the advice of the Electoral Commission should be accepted. As Willie Sullivan of the Electoral Reform Society said: If the Electoral Commission went back to the Scottish Parliament with the question that it had recommended and tested and the Scottish Parliament tried to change it, organisations like ours and othershopefully, everybodywould make quite a fuss about it and say they had no confidence in it. 23

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shared by other witnesses. that responsibility. Commission, explained:
23 24 25 26 Q 465 Q 234 Q 718 Ev 216

Professor Stephen Tierney, of the University of Edinburgh, added that the Electoral Commission has a lawful role in this regard and I would imagine a question that they thought unintelligible would clearly be open to judicial review.24 This position was

25. None of our witnesses thought that the SNPs plan was acceptable and all agreed that the Electoral Commission, which is experienced and neutral, was the appropriate body to ensure that this referendum is as fair as possible. The Electoral Commission itself is prepared to do so. We recommend that the Electoral Commission should have

26. This task will include dealing with the wording of the question: the Commission presently has a statutory duty of testing proposed questions for intelligibility. This will

extend to the words used and the structure of the question. John McCormick, of the

What we mean by clarity and intelligibility. It is that the voters get the result that they want, so therefore they understand the question and its implications [] that is part of the question testing process [] we are looking for clarity about outcomes and clarity about the question, and an unbiased question. 25

27. All our witnesses agreed that thorough testing of the question was of great importance. Ipsos MORI advised that Our view is that there also needs to be a significant testing of different question options before a final decision can be made. 26 They added that such testing could be done in a number of ways. With proper polling, they would have a better

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idea of whether a question is fair once different options have been tested rigorously and analysed against differently-worded questions, with robust sample sizes. 27

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people understand it. 29 fairest. 30. Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde added:

Cognitive testing is an approach we use to assess how questions are understood and answered by respondents [] this would be extremely helpful in providing evidence from voters about the wording of different question options. 28

As the Commission explained to us, such tests can sometimes produce surprising results: voters do not always take the meaning which legislators believe or hope that they will from the words which have been proposed. Andrew Scallan explained that The research demonstrates that each word has to be considered in each question to make sure that

29. No question should be placed before the electorate unless the Electoral Commission is completely satisfied as to the intelligibility and fairness of the wording. The Commission should conduct a very thorough programme of testing of a number of different question options before coming to a view on the wording which is clearest and

Certainly, whatever is initially proposed, we need to ensure that the Electoral Commission has the right not just simply to test a single proposition but indeed is able to test what it regards as reasonable alternatives.30

Testing proposed questions

31. Testing the question must be done carefully and thoroughly, and consider the full range of options so as to choose the best. That will take time. Mr McCormick said:

We are recommending that we have twenty weeks to test. That is based on the experience last time of testing and re-testing and going round the circuit again. This is based on the experience of the single question referendums last year. 31

27 28 29 30

Ev 217 ibid. Q 750 Q 316

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28. In addition, it was felt that cognitive testing of questions would also be essential.

The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

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Mark Diffley thought the timescale would be three or six months [...] you would need to go through a process where you cognitively tested the question with enough people, while Andrew Hawkins, of ComRes, felt that two to three months would be an appropriate length of time. 32

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concern to us that there is no sign at present of any work on testing possible questions. would simply respond to what is proposed. example:
31 32 33 34 Q 716 Q 905 Q 410 Q 629

have concerns that the period of uncertainty before this referendum is to be held is already too long, even on the basis of the timetable proposed by the UK Government, which would allow it to take place in 2013. The evidence from business on the effects of this uncertainty was clear. For example, Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, said Uncertainty is itself

costly [...] for this reason, it would seem to me to be very much in the interests of all concerned to minimise the period of uncertainty. 33 It is therefore a matter of some

33. The Electoral Commissions role is advisory and not decisive. It can only work with questions which are proposed to it, and it was made clear to us in evidence by the Commission that it was not for it to initiate the drafting of a neutral, unbiased question: it

34. Dr Matt Qvortrup, of Cranfield University, made the point that What is important is that the question is seen to be fair by both sides of the argument. He went on to give an

In Montenegro when they voted for independence there, they had a representative from the yes side, a representative from the no side and then a neutral person I believe a Supreme Court judge to sit between them. They then came up with a question they could all agree on.34

35. In our view, it is of great importance that the Electoral Commission is able to consider and test a question agreed by all concerned, failing which alternative wordings which have been proposed both by those who support separation and by those who do

32. We accept that the process of testing should not be skimped or rushed; but we also

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not. In that way, the Commission will be able to recommend on the basis of a rigorous and objective process of testing a question that both sides of the argument will be able to agree to. 36. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) gives powers to

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very strong arguments why it should not. the electorate knows as soon as possible the question that it will be asked. this aspect of the process is wholly unbiased.

section 30 Order is passed, and the Scottish Government is considering draft legislation. If the Electoral Commission were given powers under that legislation of the same sort that it has under Westminster legislation, it could then test a proposed question and advise on it. There is, however, no reason for the necessary work to be delayed as long as that, and two

37. The first is that debate on a separation referendum needs to move as swiftly as possible from questions of procedure and drafting, like the wording of the question, to the substantive choice which faces the Scottish electorate: whether or not to leave the United Kingdom. Given that it is widely agreed that the Electoral Commission should play the key role in setting the question, there is absolutely no reason for them not to start on that as soon as possible. Indeed, there is every reason for them to get ahead. They themselves recommended that they should be allowed 20 weeks to do this work thoroughly, and some of our witnesses thought that rather longer than that might be needed. It is important that

38. There is a second reason for getting ahead with this work now. We agree with our witnesses that the question must be, and be seen to be, a fair one. If the result of the referendum is to command wide acceptance, then the question must be agreed in advance by both sides of the argument. An obvious way to do that would be for those on both sides of the argument to have access to the fullest possible advice from the Electoral Commission before the legislative process begins in Westminster or Holyrood. That way, once their advice has been accepted, their neutral view will be incorporated in the legislation from the very beginning, removing a potential source of conflict, and reassuring the electorate that

the Electoral Commission which would enable this to happen. This could wait until a

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39. The Commission made clear to us that it was not its role to propose questions, but rather to test the questions proposed by Governments or others. We understand this, but that puts the onus on others to place before the Commission questions which it can test for clarity and fairness, and then advise which best meets the needs of a separation referendum. The Commission should test, as they rightly argued, how every word in a

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voter to say I agree or I disagree and if so to what sort of statement. wait for draft legislation before offering advice. Section 10 of PPERA provides that: They should do so on an agreed selection of possible questions, ideally jointly. proposals for separation.

proposed question is understood; this should include the words separation, independence, state, country, nation, remain and become, and other relevant words. It should also test the structure of the question paper, including whether it is better to have a question which solicits the answer yes or no, or a formulation that invites the

40. There is a mechanism for achieving this. The Electoral Commission does not have to

The Commission may, at the request of any relevant body, provide the body with advice and assistance as respects any matter in which the Commission have skill and experience.

A relevant body includes the UK or Scottish Governments. The Commission may also provide advice to registered [political] parties. It is therefore entirely possible for either or

both Governments or the political parties involved to seek the advice of the Commission.

41. The Scottish Governments proposed question (or some variant of it, if it accepts the criticisms we have made of how it is presently drafted) and a question proposed by

the opponents of separation could therefore be referred to the Commission for advice. The best way of achieving that would be for the political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament to agree jointly on a question, or, if they cannot, a range of questions, on which the Commissions advice should be taken. If a consensus cannot be reached, then an individual party or group of parties should submit a question, or range of questions. Both sides should agree in advance to accept the Commissions advice in order to remove from dispute the wording of the question and allow the people of Scotland to focus on the important issues of substance involved in the SNPs

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Conclusions and recommendations


The principles behind a referendum question 1. These principles of clarity and balance are obviously correct and must apply to any question put to the Scottish people in a referendum on separation. (Paragraph 10)

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2. How can a fair question be drafted? 3. 4. Testing proposed questions 5. 6.

Second draft question proposed by the Scottish Government

Based on the evidence we have received, we have no choice but to conclude that the question currently proposed by the Scottish Government is biased in that it tends to lead the respondent towards the answer yes. (Paragraph 16)

None of our witnesses thought that the SNPs plan was acceptable and all agreed that the Electoral Commission, which is experienced and neutral, was the appropriate body to ensure that this referendum is as fair as possible. The Electoral Commission itself is prepared to do so. We recommend that the Electoral Commission should have that responsibility. (Paragraph 25) No question should be placed before the electorate unless the Electoral Commission is completely satisfied as to the intelligibility and fairness of the wording. The Commission should conduct a very thorough programme of testing of a number of different question options before coming to a view on the wording which is clearest and fairest. (Paragraph 29)

In our view, it is of great importance that the Electoral Commission is able to consider and test a question agreed by all concerned, failing which alternative wordings which have been proposed both by those who support separation and by those who do not. In that way, the Commission will be able to recommend on the basis of a rigorous and objective process of testing a question that both sides of the argument will be able to agree to. (Paragraph 35) The Scottish Governments proposed question (or some variant of it, if it accepts the criticisms we have made of how it is presently drafted) and a question proposed by the opponents of separation could therefore be referred to the Commission for advice. The best way of achieving that would be for the political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament to agree jointly on a question, or, if they cannot, a range of questions, on which the Commissions advice should be taken. If a consensus cannot be reached, then an individual party or group of parties should submit a question, or range of questions. Both sides should agree in advance to accept the Commissions advice in order to remove from dispute the wording of the question and allow the people of Scotland to focus on the important issues of substance involved in the SNPs proposals for separation. (Paragraph 41)

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Annex 1
A specimen GCSE Statistics (Higher Tier) paper produced by Edexcel in 2003 included the following question: 8. Mary is carrying out an investigation into the cost of food at her college canteen. She asks people in the queue for canteen food

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Do you agree that canteen food is value for money? (a) Why is her sample of people likely to be biased? ............................................................................................................................................ .......................................................................................................................................... (1) (b) Why is her question biased? ....................................................................................................................................... (1) (c) Suggest two reasons for her to carry out a pilot survey. (i).................................................................................................................................. (ii).................................................................................................................... (2) college. (d) Describe how she would select a simple random sample. ............................................................................................................................................. ............................................................................................................. ........................................................................................................................... (2)35
35 Edexcel GCSE Statistics (Higher Tier) Paper 1H (1389), 2003

For another investigation Mary selects a sample of 30 students from the 720 students at her

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

Annex 2
Lord Ashcroft commissioned a survey on the effect of the wording of referendum questions, for which the fieldwork was carried out between 26 and 31 January 2012. The results are below. Question: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Total Male Female Age 18-24 Age 25-39 Age 40-59 Age 60+

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Social Grade ABC1 37 Yes (%) No (%) 41 46 35 42 39 43 38 44 59 54 65 58 61 57 62 63 56 Question: Do you agree or disagree that Scotland should be an independent country? Total Male Female Age 18-24 Age 25-39 Age 40-59 Age 60+ Social Grade ABC1 Agree (%) 39 38 39 35 36 45 34 37 40 Disagree 61 (%) 62 61 65 64 55 66 63 60 United Kingdom? Total Male Female Age Age Age Age 18-24 25-39 40-50 60+ Social Grade ABC1

Question: Should Scotland become an independent country, or should it remain part of the

n
Social Grade C2DE Social Grade C2DE Social Grade C2DE

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Independent 33 (%) UK (%)


36

35

31

28

33

37

30

29

37

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36 www.lordashcroftpolls.com

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67

65

69

72

67

63

70

71

63

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The Referendum on separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?

Formal Minutes
Wednesday 25 April 2012
Members present: Mr Ian Davidson, in the Chair Fiona Bruce Jim McGovern Iain McKenzie David Mowat Pamela Nash Simon Reevell Mr Alan Reid Lindsay Roy

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Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph. Paragraphs 1 to 41 read and agreed to. Summary agreed to. Resolved, That the Report be the Eighth Report of the Committee to the House. Ordered, That the Chair make the Report to the House.

Draft Report (The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Do you agree this is a biased question?), proposed by the Chair, brought up and read.

Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available, in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 134.

[Adjourned till Wednesday 16 May 2012 at 2.00 p.m

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List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament


The reference number of the Governments response to each Report is printed in brackets after the HC printing number.

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First Report Postal Services in Scotland Second Report Third Report Video Games Industry in Scotland UK Border Agency and Glasgow City Council The Scotland Bill Fourth Report Fifth Report Student Immigration System in Scotland Sixth Report The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Unanswered Question The Crown Estate in Scotland Seventh Report

Session 201012

HC 669 (HC 884)

HC 500 (Cm 8067) HC 733 HC 775

HC 912 (Cm 8192) HC 1806 HC 1117

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