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Scottish Independence Referendum: Campaign Expenditure and Regulation

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

(Representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published a report in the Scottish Parliament on its analysis of the spending and regulation of campaigners at the Scottish independence referendum.

This is the Electoral Commission’s second report on the referendum and fulfils its statutory duty to report to the Scottish Parliament, under the provisions of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 (SIRA), on the use of its investigatory powers and civil sanctions. For further background and information on the wider context of the referendum on independence for Scotland, this report should be read in conjunction with the report the Commission published in December 2014 on the conduct of the referendum, which is available on its website and copies of which were placed in the Library of the House on its publication.

This report analyses the funding and spending of those people and organisations that registered to campaign at the independence referendum. It builds on last December’s report and makes further recommendations for the future based on the information campaigners were required to submit in their post-referendum returns. These additional recommendations are intended to inform the regulation of future referendums, not only in Scotland, but elsewhere in the UK including an EU referendum.

SIRA contained a number of rules drawn from those that applied at the 2011 referendums on increased powers for the National Assembly for Wales and the UK-wide referendum on the UK parliamentary voting systems. These rules clarified aspects of the regulatory controls, reduced burdens on those that wished to campaign and ensured that voters had access to the information that would enable them to make an informed decision when they voted. Overall, the Commission concludes that the regulatory controls that applied at the independence referendum worked well and improved on the rules from previous referendums.

After the independence referendum, registered campaigners were required to submit a campaign spending return to the Commission. The returns included details of the spending that the campaigners incurred campaigning at the referendum and all donations and loans they accepted over £7,500. Campaigners were also required to provide a total figure of the donations and loans they received over £500 but below £7,500. Anything with a value of £500 or less was not counted as a donation or loan for the purposes of the referendum rules.

The report shows that 42 campaigners registered with the Commission, 21 indicating they supported the yes outcome to the question asked, 21 supporting the no side. Registered campaigners reported spending a total of £6,664,980 campaigning at the independence referendum and reported having received donations and loans totalling £7,318,545.

SIRA also gave the Commission the role of monitoring and taking steps to ensure compliance with the referendum campaign rules. To enable the Commission to undertake that role, it had access to investigatory and sanctioning powers. The report finds that the Commission’s powers under SIRA enabled it to effectively investigate matters. While the Commission found that it was able to obtain the information that it required through voluntary co-operation with campaigners, it also sets out that the powers SIRA provided it were useful to point to as part of its discussions with campaigners.

Copies of the Commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the Commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk

[HCWS49]