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Lords back UK Government's stance on powers of Scottish Parliament to call independence referendum

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published a report which supports the UK Government's position that the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament do not have the authority to call a referendum on Scottish independence as this is would relate to the Union and is therefore a ‘reserved' issue.

On the subject of ‘devolution-max', the Committee felt strongly that the issue should not be a question for Scotland alone. ‘Devolution-max' has the potential to create different and competing tax regimes within the UK, so the whole population of the UK and their representatives should have a right to a say on any proposals for it. This would require inclusive and extensive multilateral negotiations right across the United Kingdom.

The Committee also draws on its previous report on referendums which argued in favour of referendum questions posing two options, and therefore any referendum should present a straight choice between full independence or the status-quo, not including a third option for ‘devolution-max'

The Committee also consider the process for deciding on the wording of any referendum.  They say it should be for the Electoral Commission to report on the intelligibility of any proposed referendum question on Scottish independence.

With to the limits on the authority of the Scottish Parliament to call a referendum on independence, the Committee support the UK Government's proposal that a section 30 order be made under the Scotland Act 1998 to allow for a referendum to be held. This would require the agreement of the both the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
Commenting Baroness Jay, Chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:

“Having looked in detail at the consultation papers by both the UK and Scottish Governments, and a significant amount of case law, it is clear that currently the Scottish Parliament cannot unilaterally call an independence referendum.

“We are firmly of the view that any referendum that is held must be a straight choice between full independence or the status-quo. A third ‘devolution-max' option is clearly something every part of the UK must have a say in as it has the potential to create different and competing tax regimes within the UK.

“Any question asked in a referendum must be fair and neutral. For that reason it is important that the Electoral Commission is involved to make sure that any proposed question is clear and unambiguous before it goes to the public vote.”