Nicola Sturgeon promises 'fair referendum' on Scottish independence


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Scotland's Deputy First Minister insisted the country's future would not be “bought and sold” as she hit out at Westminster over the spending limits for the independence referendum campaign.

Nicola Sturgeon, also the Scottish Government's Infrastructure and Constitution Secretary, was involved in the negotiations that led to the signing of a deal for the key constitutional ballot.

Talks between the two administrations managed to resolve disputes over issues such as the number of questions that should be on the ballot paper.

But Ms Sturgeon said the issue that had "most exercised" the UK Government during the discussions was that of campaign funding.

In its referendum consultation, the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration at Holyrood proposed spending limits of £750,000 for campaign organisations - the pro-independence Yes Scotland organisation and its rival Better Together, which wants to keep Scotland in the UK.

It also proposed that political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament could spend a maximum of £250,000.

The spending limits would only apply to the four month period in the run up to the independence vote, to be held in the autumn of 2014.

In her speech to the SNP annual conference in Perth Ms Sturgeon stressed the referendum must be "decided fairly and squarely".

She said: "The issue that most exercised the UK Government during the negotiations was campaign funding. They think that the limits proposed in our consultation are too low."

And she added: "Let me be clear. We will set the spending limits with care. We will listen to our consultation. We will listen to the Electoral Commission. We will listen to both campaign organisations.

"Then we will take a decision that is right for Scotland. A decision that guarantees a level playing field and a fair contest.

"Make no mistake, this time round Scotland's future will not be bought and sold for anyone's gold."

Ms Sturgeon also insisted that letting 16 and 17 year olds vote in the referendum was the "right thing to do".

In his speech to the conference yesterday First Minister Alex Salmond announced legislation will be introduced at Holyrood within weeks so all young people in this age group can take part in the ballot.

Ms Sturgeon said today: "Young people who can marry, have kids and pay taxes will get the right to vote on the future of our country."