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Referendum Consultation

Volume 543: debated on Wednesday 18 April 2012

4. What assessment his Department has made of the responses to its consultation on the proposed referendum on independence for Scotland. (102889)

8. What assessment his Department has made of the responses to its consultation on the proposed referendum on independence for Scotland. (102893)

The Government published their response on 4 April. The responses to the consultation gave strong endorsement to a referendum involving a single, clear question on independence, overseen by the Electoral Commission, using the same franchise as that used to elect the Members of the Scottish Parliament, and held sooner rather than later.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the consensus established by the responses to the consultation, which is that people do not want to wait 1,000 days to exercise their votes in a referendum?

This is a fundamentally important decision, the most important that we as Scots will make in our lifetimes, and the longer it is delayed, the greater the uncertainty will be. The sooner we can get on with resolving the process and the question, the better.

Do the responses of the consultation reflect my view that there should be a simple “yes or no” question in any referendum if we are to secure a decisive outcome for Scotland?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We must not muddle the issue of independence with a separate debate on the future of devolution. Today we mark another important milestone in the development of the Scotland Bill. What we want after its enactment—assuming that we receive their lordships’ support—is a clear decision on the future of our country, and for it to stay in the United Kingdom.

Does the Secretary of State wish to take this opportunity to thank the Labour party for providing his meagre consultation with more than a quarter of the responses? I suppose that that adds a new meaning to the term “Labour block vote”. Can he tell us how many other responses he received from the Labour website with a slightly amended text, and why the Labour party is doing all the groundwork for his Tory-led Government’s consultation?

It should hardly be a surprise to the hon. Gentleman that political parties want to take part in consultations. This is an intensely political process. Even this morning, there was a pre-prepared script on the Scottish National party website inviting people to respond to the SNP’s consultation, so SNP Members should be a wee bit careful about the argument they are trying to make.

Some 70% of respondents to the UK consultation felt that 2014 was too long to wait to decide Scotland’s constitutional future. Businesses and financial institutions in my constituency have made it clear that this state of limbo is damaging the economy in Scotland. Has the Secretary of State received similar representations from businesses elsewhere in Scotland?

The hon. Lady is entirely right to draw this issue to the attention of the House and to highlight that across Scotland and the UK, businesses, like individuals, want answers. We need to resolve this hugely important issue sooner rather than later, so we do not lose out on investment in jobs and we understand our future within the UK.