Alex Salmond defends referendum question


Alex Salmond has rejected suggestions that voters should be asked in the referendum on Scottish independence if they want to leave the United Kingdom.

The Scottish First Minister said introducing the UK into the question would "confuse the issue" because the country would retain the Queen as head of state after breaking the political union.

Some critics have argued that his preferred question - Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? - is skewed in favour of securing a positive response.

But Mr Salmond insists it is clear and decisive, and is supported by people including electoral expert Matt Qvortrup of Cranfield University.

Mr Salmond responded to suggestions on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that voters should be asked if they want to leave the UK instead.

The First Minister said: "It is SNP policy to have the Queen as our head of state.

"That union, that United Kingdom if you like, would be maintained after Scottish political independence.

"I think that's a real stumbling block about putting forward a question of the United Kingdom."

Asked if that meant Scotland could still be regarded as being in the UK after independence, Mr Salmond said: "I don't think it's a very good idea to confuse the issue by talking about united kingdoms when what we're talking about is political independence."

The Scottish and English crowns were united in 1603 by James VI of Scotland. Political union followed in 1707.

Mr Salmond unveiled his proposed question at the launch of the Scottish Government consultation on the referendum last Wednesday.

As well as setting a straight Yes-No question on independence, the door has been left open to another option for maximum devolved powers within the union.

The so-called devo-max option is to be considered as part of a wider look at the constitution in an independent campaign being launched by civic bodies tomorrow.

Mr Salmond said the UK Government is also canvassing opinion on whether more than one question could be posed.

He added: "What I would advise the Prime Minister to do is this: it's to do what I'm going to do. Listen to the voices of civic Scotland that come forward to see if there's a real demand for having a question on fiscal autonomy, on financial powers, on the ballot paper.

"If that demand is there I think it would only be inclusive and democratic to allow that voice to be heard."

Mr Salmond said any vote on maximum financial powers would not need the endorsement of English voters.

Asked if they should have a say on devo-max, he said: "No, the point I was making was that the view of England, if you like, is expressed through the House of Commons."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mr Salmond is trying to offer "false hope" to those who want greater powers within the union.

In a statement, Mr Rennie said: "By offering false hope to voters by proposing a two-question referendum without a legitimate method of asking the questions, Alex Salmond is trying to drive a wedge between those who reject independence but want more powers for Scotland within the UK.

"Far from a high-minded offer to let the people decide, it is an SNP campaign tactic, the object of which is to get people arguing over process, rather than expose the SNP's policy of independence to proper, detailed and forensic scrutiny."

Mr Rennie first posed the question about how a multi-option referendum might be interpreted if a slim majority backs independence but a huge majority backs more devolution.

The SNP administration has claimed that any majority for independence would come out on top.

Mr Rennie added: "I want home rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom but I won't submit our plans to a second class question in a referendum.

"It could be defeated by independence even if it wins by a landslide. This is not fair, it is not democratic and it is an insult to the majority of Scots who favour more powers."

The party's home rule position is being drawn up by a commission headed by Lib Dem MP Sir Menzies Campbell.