The Scottish parliament has passed a bill laying out the frameworks for a potential future second referendum on Scotland’s independence from the UK.
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum saw the country vote to remain part of the UK by 55.3% to 44.7%, but the movement for an independent Scotland has grown stronger and more vocal since the UK as a whole voted in 2016 to leave the EU. While Brexit received a majority vote UK-wide, with 51.9% voting to leave, 62% of Scottish voters opted to remain in the EU; and Scottish campaigners and parliamentarians have expressed extensive concerns since the initial Brexit referendum that the particular concerns and needs of Scotland have been sidelined during Brexit negotiations and preparations.
The new Referendums (Scotland) Bill incorporates the Scottish franchise, enabling EU citizens living in Scotland and young people aged 16 and 17 to vote. It strengthens regulation of social media campaigning and implements stricter penalties for campaigns which do not adhere to the rules; and mandates that referendum questions must be approved by the UK’s Electoral Commission.
Scotland’s Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell said: “Today we are closer to giving the Scottish people a choice over the path our country should take. With this legislative framework in place, it only requires a short bill for an independence referendum to be held once a transfer of power, which puts holding a referendum beyond challenge, is devolved to the Scottish government. These robust regulations will allow debate to focus on the issues at stake in referendums, not procedure, and ensure that the results can be accepted by all parties. Legal changes are required to keep pace with the way campaigns are now conducted. To protect the space for rational, respectful debate, it must be clear who is behind online campaign activity, while those who break rules should be properly sanctioned. This bill addresses both these issues.”