Quiz 4: Referendum Process

Quiz 4: Referendum Process

Purpose: This quiz will help develop knowledge and understanding around the Scottish independence referendum process.

The quiz is the fourth of a series. The purpose of each quiz is to inform citizens of all ages, particularly school children and young people, so that citizens are able to make informed choices and participate in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future leading to the 2014 referendum on independence.

The quiz series is part of a project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Edinburgh and managed by Professor Stephen Tierney of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.

Additional Resources:

Instructions: Read the following text and answer the multiple choice questions below. For further discussion refer to the research and discussion section after the multiple choice questions.

Referendum Process

There is a lot of discussion about which way people should vote in the referendum. But arguably it is just as important that the referendum process is fair, no matter what the result is. This is important in any competition. You may play football or like to watch it. The game depends upon rules and upon the referee to make sure both sides keep to the rules. If this doesn’t happen the game is spoiled.

In the same way we now have a set of rules for the referendum telling us what the question is, who can vote (see quiz 5 about this), how much money each campaign can spend, and who the referee is. There are also details about where the voting stations will be and how people can vote by post if they need to.

The Scottish Parliament has passed a law which sets out the process for the referendum. This is the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. We will call this ‘the Referendum Act’.

The Question

The Referendum Act sets out the question to be put to voters. The original form of the question put forward by the Scottish Government in January 2012, was: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ This question has now been changed.

The question was reviewed by the Electoral Commission (see below) at the end of 2013. The Electoral Commission acts as a referee, overseeing the referendum process. The Electoral Commission took issue with the phrase ‘Do you agree’, suggesting it could lead people to vote Yes. It therefore suggested a change to the question. This has been accepted by the Scottish Government .

The question voters will answer in the referendum is: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Voters will be asked to mark a cross beside Yes or No.

Campaign Groups

Each side in the campaign was able to apply to the Electoral Commission to be appointed as one of two ‘Designated Organisations’ which meant they would become officially recognised campaign groups.

The two main campaign groups – ‘Yes Scotland’ and ‘Better Together’ are now the official ‘Designated Organisations’.

‘Yes Scotland’ is, as its name makes clear, campaigning for a Yes vote to independence. ‘Better Together’ is campaigning for a No vote.

These organisations are regulated by the Referendum Act. In particular, the Act tells them how much they can spend on campaigning. It also regulates who they can receive donations from and forces them to report on donations every month.

How are they funded?

The campaign groups are funded by private donations. There is to be no public funding or tax-payers’ money given to either campaign group.

Benefits for campaign groups

Each campaign group gets a free mail-shot which can be sent to every home in Scotland promoting their side of the campaign. They also are allowed to use public buildings for events.

How much can the campaign groups spend?

The two main campaign groups can each spend up to £1,500,000.

It is also possible for the main political parties to spend money in the referendum. The parties supporting the Yes Scotland campaign can spend around £1,500,000. The main parties supporting Better Together can spend a little less. These amounts are worked out based upon the support the parties received at the last Scottish Parliament elections.

Other groups can spend lesser amounts. They are called ‘permitted participants’ and they can spend up to £150,000.

When do the spending rules apply?

The spending rules began 16 weeks before the date of the referendum. This means that they began on 30 May 2014. This is known as the Referendum Period.

Making sure the rules are obeyed

As noted above, the referendum process will be overseen by the Electoral Commission. It will try to make sure that the rules in the Referendum Act are properly implemented and that both campaigns do not break the law. It is possible to take people to court if they spend too much or break any other rules.

Information to citizens

The Referendum Act says that the Electoral Commission should help promote public awareness and understanding in Scotland about the referendum, the referendum question, and how to vote in the referendum.

The Electoral Commission will put together a pamphlet with information for voters. This will be sent to all households. This may try to explain the positions of both the main campaign groups.

Purdah

In the period 28 days before the referendum there is to be no promotional activity by government, local authorities or public bodies. This means that in the four weeks prior to the referendum the Scottish Government and a wide range of other public bodies must not engage in promotional activity. The UK Government has also committed to be bound by these rules.

The two campaign groups and other private campaigners are still free to campaign during this period.

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