Proposed ballot questions differ greatly from Scotland’s planned referendum

British and Scottish governments worked together on text to be posed to voters

The questions that four Catalan parties agreed on Thursday to present to voters next year in a referendum regarding self-rule for the region are very different from the one Scottish voters will answer in their own plebiscite next September.

In the first instance, the two processes are not comparable because the British and Scottish governments agreed beforehand that a status referendum should be based on constitutional provisions, and pledged to accept the results regardless of whether or not voters choose to remain as part of the United Kingdom or seek independence.

The second difference centers on the questions themselves. London and Edinburgh agreed to allow the British Electoral Commission to have the final say in the wording of the ballot to ensure that it is fair.

One of the most important aspects of the agreement hammered out between Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in October 2012 centers on the ballot question. They agreed that only one simple, direct, clear and neutral question will be presented to voters on September 18, 2014.

With this, Salmond took back his initial proposal to allow Scots to select from three alternatives: current status quo, more autonomy for Scotland or independence.

Edinburgh was allowed to draft the question and its original version was: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yes or No." But that was dropped after the Electoral Commission raised concerns that it wasn't simple or neutral because it could lead people into voting "yes."

The commission hired consulting firm Ispso MORI Scotland, which interviewed 265 people to gauge their reactions — but not to see how they will vote — about the wording. The majority believed that it was "clear, simple, concise and to the point." However, the commission concluded: "While the language used in the question was considered to be clear, simple and easy to understand, there were some aspects of the wording that people felt were potentially ambiguous or affected their perceptions of the neutrality of the question.

"The formulation, 'Do you agree...' was commonly felt by research participants to be biased toward a 'yes' outcome and potentially leading people toward a 'yes' vote," the commission concluded in its January 2013 report on the referendum. It specifically found that people said that asking the question implied that an independent Scotland is a '"good thing' because voters are being invited to agree with this view."

The commission opted to keep the original text of the first Scottish question but dropped the "Do you agree" formulation. Voters will now be asked simply: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

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