See what I did there?
That headline is a bit of a leading question. It certainly isn’t, in my view at least, neutral. It invites the reader to answer “Yes.” Had I said “Should the SNP do what the Electoral Commission says?” that would be a little more neutral.
We’ll find out later what the Electoral Commission thinks about that when it rules on the SNP’s chosen question for the Independence Referendum. They want to ask “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”
The Electoral Commission view is actually the only one that matters. If the Referendum is going to have any semblance of fairness, then it has to be overseen by this completely neutral body. This is what the Edinburgh Agreement between the two Governments has to say on the Electoral Commission’s role:
The Electoral Commission is responsible for overseeing referendums held under PPERA. PPERA gives the Electoral Commission responsibility for:
• commenting on the wording of the referendum question;
• registration of campaigners;
• designating lead campaign organisations;
• regulating campaign spending and donations;
• giving grants to lead campaign organisations;
• publishing guidance for permitted participants;
• reporting on the referendum process;
• the conduct of the poll; and
• the announcement of the result.
13. The Electoral Commission was also given responsibility for promoting
public awareness for voters in the 2011 Welsh and UK referendums.
14. Both governments agree that the Electoral Commission should fulfil all
these functions in respect of the independence referendum
Nicola Sturgeon has been less certain than I would have liked about the Commission’s role, merely saying that any government which didn’t take their advice would have to explain why to Parliament, where they have a majority.
Whatever the Commission says today, I think we need a very quick commitment from the SNP Government to do what it says. Willie Rennie said yesterday that it would shatter confidence if they didn’t:
Rejecting the considered word of the expert electoral commission would shatter confidence amongst those who seek a fair process in the independence referendum. Alex Salmond should keep the words of his nationalist colleague Blair Jenkins in mind and accept the guidance of the Electoral Commission on matters such as the wording of the referendum question and campaign spending levels.
My guess is that Nicola Sturgeon will do what the Electoral Commission says. The last thing the Scottish Government needs is 18 months of accusations that they are trying to rig the referendum on top of all the ducking and diving from them over the EU question. It would be very dangerous for them to disregard neutral advice from the body overseeing the referendum and to push their own alternative through the Parliament they control. My guess is that she’s too sensible to let that happen, even if some of her colleagues might prefer a different route.