Scottish Independence Vote 'On Track'

The Scottish independence referendum is on track to be a well-run poll, according to the Electoral Commission.

The authority looked at preparations one year before people in Scotland are asked whether they want to end political union with the rest of the UK. 

John McCormick, electoral commissioner for Scotland, said: ``On 18 September next year, voters will be asked to decide the future of Scotland and they need to have absolute confidence in the result. 

``There must be no doubt that the referendum was fair and transparent and there were no barriers to voters or campaigners taking part. 

``The rules and the plans for delivering the poll across Scotland underpin the whole referendum and we are encouraged by the progress we have found. These are good foundations to build on but there is still work to do. We will continue to monitor progress and will speak up if we have any concerns.'' 

The commission published its interim report just days after the Scottish Parliament endorsed the general principles of the Referendum Bill. 

The legislation lays the groundwork for the poll and sets the franchise, lowering the voting limit to include 16 and 17-year-olds. 

Among its findings, the interim report said the Scottish and UK governments should clarify what would happen after the decision is taken next year. 

``Although we would not expect the terms of independence to be agreed before the vote, clarity about how the terms of independence will be decided would help voters understand how competing claims made by campaigners before the referendum would be resolved,'' the report states. 

``We believe this is important for voters. We therefore recommended that the Scottish and UK governments clarify what process would follow the referendum in sufficient detail so as to inform people what would happen if most voters voted Yes or if most voters voted No.'' 

A joint statement should be agreed by December 20 to coincide with the expected Royal Assent to the Bill, the Commission suggested. It emerged earlier this year that both governments had begun talks on the issue. The report raised some concern about the impact of UK legislation on the referendum. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill will change campaign spending rules for non-party campaigners in the year before a general election. If passed, the legislation will apply from May next year, one week before the spending rules for referendum campaigners begin to apply. 

Mr McCormick said: ``The UK Government has taken welcome action before to ensure there are no barriers for voters at the referendum, including amending plans for the introduction of changes to the electoral registration system in Scotland. We trust they will continue to put the voters first and take steps to provide campaigners with certainty on the rules.''