15 Jan 2013 : Column 799

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point. Does he agree that the evidence is clear that a substantial proportion of the people who voted SNP do not support independence and if they saw the SNP manipulating the question, that could prove counter-productive in two ways? Of course, it would discredit the SNP but it would also lead to a result that people would find unsatisfactory. Does he agree that it is in the interests of the SNP and Scotland for the question to be agreed by, and to have the confidence of, all parties?

Anas Sarwar: I agree wholeheartedly and, in fact, I would go further. Polling has shown that 45% of the people who voted SNP in 2011, when the party won that overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, oppose independence and support being members of the United Kingdom. We have seen the launch of the Labour for Independence campaign, which has one or a maximum of two Labour members fronting a campaign led mainly by the SNP. In fact, the SNP should be looking to keep its own support rather than trying to look for voters elsewhere.

The Scottish Government, Yes Scotland and the Deputy First Minister have all said that the debate must be open, transparent, fair and honest. The transfer of powers from this place to the Scottish Parliament and the decisions that the Electoral Commission will make on how to make the referendum fair and open are the first big tests of the rhetoric. This is the first opportunity those bodies will have to show that they will put the people of Scotland first, that they will put the future of Scotland before the future of the SNP and the country’s interests before their own, and that the will of the people of Scotland will come before all else. The people of Scotland deserve nothing less.

I have some concerns. To date, the SNP rhetoric on transparency and fairness has not matched up to the reality of its behaviour. On the very subject of today’s debate, let us not forget that just one year ago the SNP said that it did not need a section 30 order for the referendum to be competent. Alex Salmond said to the Scottish Parliament:

“We have set out in the past how the Scottish Parliament could hold a referendum that we are satisfied would be within its present competence.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 25 January 2012; c. 5605.]

Bruce Crawford, as Minister for Parliamentary Business, said that the SNP Administration had set out their position on the

“right and ability of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum”.

Both comments were presumably the most factual comments ever made in the history of the Scottish Parliament.

Let us be clear. The leader of the Westminster SNP has welcomed the historic agreement that will transfer these powers—an agreement the SNP said was not needed in the first place. We have also seen the section 30 order being used as an excuse for assertions on other issues. The Deputy First Minister stood up in the Scottish Parliament and claimed that the SNP was now in a position to seek legal advice on the EU because of the content of the Edinburgh agreement, an agreement that her party did not think was needed in the first place. Nothing in the agreement stopped the SNP or the Scottish Government from seeking legal advice on that

15 Jan 2013 : Column 800

issue or many others before this point, so none of the debate from the SNP should be skewed in the context of the section 30 agreement.

We have heard from colleagues today, and have already seen from the SNP, a willingness to change the franchise for the referendum by reducing the voting age to 16. Although I agree with that, the SNP’s proposal is based not on any principled view that 16 and 17-year-olds should have the vote for all elections but rather on a belief that they might gain electoral advantage from the inclusion of that group, who were believed to be more likely to support independence. However, that plan appears to have backfired somewhat as a recent poll showed that young people are as against independence as the rest of Scotland.

Let me make some important points about the expansion of the franchise to include 16-year-olds. We need to ensure that not only some 16-year-olds but every 16-year-old gets a vote in the referendum. We must be clear about the work that must be done locally and nationally by the electoral registration officers, where the funds will come from to meet the costs and whether local government will be given the additional finance it needs to deliver on that pledge. We must also be clear about the impact of the UK Government’s insistence on single voter registration on encouraging 16 and 17-year-olds to register for the referendum. Those are all serious issues that must be addressed before we move on to the substance of the question.

There are other areas of concern, too. Perhaps the most obvious is the reluctance of the Scottish Government publicly to commit to accepting the decisions of the electoral Commission. The role of the Electoral Commission is clear and well rehearsed; it is an independent, experienced and trusted body, whose motive is only that of ensuring a fair contest and a fair outcome.

Two areas of consideration are vital. The first is the fairness of the question. Can anything be of greater importance than ensuring that voters have a clear unbiased question? The second is to ensure that the spending limits of the respective campaigns are appropriate to allow a properly robust and informed debate.

There is not universal approval of the wording of the question. Some say it is leading and some say it is likely to skew the result. I say, let the Electoral Commission decide. On our side of the argument, we know the result we want, and the nationalists know the result they want. It should not be for politicians to decide what the question should be; let us take it out of their hands. I am not saying that our question is better than an SNP question; I am saying that we should respect the right of an independent respected body to set the question. All political parties should accept its advice and move on, to give Scotland the debate it deserves.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): One of the things the Electoral Commission can deliver is its experience in getting under the language used—for example, testing it with focus groups—to see whether people understand what the writer thinks they understand. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not about the politics, but about ensuring that the language is clear?

Anas Sarwar: I was coming to that very point. The Electoral Commission will test the question. Any advice it offers will be evidence-based. It will not be based on

15 Jan 2013 : Column 801

supposition by any Member of the House or of any other place, nor on opinion or myth; it will be based on evidence and rigorous testing.

The job of the Electoral Commission is to ensure that the question is clear, understandable and decisive. If given that right, it will ensure that the question is unbiased and fair. Crucially, by accepting the decision of the Electoral Commission, the question will be seen, across Scotland and across the world, as unbiased and fair. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear the chief executive of the Yes Scotland campaign be very clear in his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee about the Electoral Commission advice:

“There is always room left to disagree.”

Yes, we can disagree, but trusting an independent body to deliver a fair question is another thing altogether.

While those words are deeply concerning they also, I fear, reveal a worrying capacity for those in the yes camp to play fast and loose with vital checks and balances in the process. It is not just on the question that they appear prepared to ignore advice; given the SNP proposals, the issue of campaign funding also appears to be in its sights. The SNP Government want spending limits. That is absolutely reasonable and to be expected, but unfortunately, they want the spending limits to be set by them, not by the independent Electoral Commission. The spending limits will be set by legislation, but the SNP will control the legislation. There is a majority Government—in effect, a dictatorship in the Scottish Parliament—who will seek to do what is to their advantage.

The SNP has already proposed spending limits at half the level, or even less, than those suggested by the Electoral Commission. It is worth considering the impact of the Scottish Government’s proposals. One of their proposals is that each campaign can spend a maximum of £750,000. That is half the £1.5 million allowed through the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It is less than the £1.2 million that all the council candidates from each party could have spent collectively during last May’s council elections.

I recognise that winning control of the great city of Glasgow and many other places was important for us as a political party, and more importantly, it was an opportunity for political parties to deliver their principles and values in local authorities, but are we seriously suggesting that the referendum on the future of Scotland—the most important decision we have made in 300 years—deserves to have less spent on it and is of less importance than a council election? I do not think so. That point needs to be reflected in the proposals for the spending framework.

The SNP proposals will have an impact on other interested parties; for example, the trade union movement. Unite has approximately 150,000 members in Scotland, yet the SNP proposes that organisations such as Unite are limited to a maximum spend of £50,000. It does not take a mathematical genius to work out that Unite will not even be able to pay for the postage of a letter to each of its members, never mind pay for a leaflet or an envelope.

It does not take a political genius to work out the SNP’s motives. There can be no convincing reason why the SNP would choose to set those limits. The court of public opinion will come to the conclusion that yet

15 Jan 2013 : Column 802

again, the SNP is seeking to manipulate the process for its own ends. I hope that it will rise to the occasion. I shall give SNP Members the opportunity to say whether they prefer to abide by the decision of the Electoral Commission or whether they wish to reconsider it. I hope that they will address that when they speak in the debate.

By passing the motion we are setting out a clear legal position on the referendum, and by doing so we are passing responsibility from this place to the Scottish Government, and to all Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is a heavy responsibility that lies with the SNP Government and SNP Members because, perhaps uniquely in the Scottish Parliament, the party has an overall majority and a resulting built-in majority in committee, which places a greater responsibility on the party of government to live up to the highest ideals, judged not as members of the SNP but as parliamentarians and first and foremost as democrats. If done right, the legacy, whatever the outcome of the referendum, can be a Parliament of which we can all be proud, and a result in which we can all have faith. I commit myself and, I am sure, every single member of my party, to working for what is in the best interests of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the referendum. I hope that members of other political parties will do exactly the same. Scotland deserves nothing less.

4.36 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I very much welcome the chance to participate in this important debate. It is a great pleasure once again to follow my fellow Hutchesonian, who made a powerful speech. If it does not damage his reputation even further, I shall point out that I agree with many of the points that he made, and I hope to build on them.

In many respects, I wish that we were not having this debate. I am a staunch Unionist, and I believe in the United Kingdom. I wish that we did not have to contemplate at all the prospect of the United Kingdom splitting up into its constituent parts. I believe that that very process will cause uncertainty at a time when we need absolute certainty for our economy. There is evidence from Canada that the ongoing constitutional debate and the uncertainty of Quebec’s constitutional status damaged the economy in Quebec, and I wish that we were not in that position. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) made an important point from the perspective of his constituency about the uncertainty for the shipyards in Govan and elsewhere, and the fact that there will be no certainty on future orders while the constitutional question remains unresolved.

We are where we are. I am a democrat, and I fully accept that the SNP won the majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament. However much opinion polls show that the constitutional question was, or was not, part of the debate in that election, it was part of the SNP manifesto, and it is perfectly legitimate for it to hold the referendum. I accept that the Scottish Parliament is the right forum in which to set the terms of the referendum, but it must be absolutely fair, clean and decisive.

I wish to mention a few of my concerns. There must not be any question of gerrymandering with regard to the question, the electorate and the rules by which the campaign is fought. Many Members have expressed

15 Jan 2013 : Column 803

legitimate concerns about the prospects for the campaign. I commend members of the Scottish Affairs Committee for their insightful report, which highlighted a number of concerns.

I want to concentrate on one or two misgivings about the franchise. The question of 16 and 17-year-olds voting has been raised. I completely accept that there is a legitimate debate to be had about whether the voting age should be lowered. Eighteen is not set in stone in this country: the age at which someone can vote has changed over the years and has been reduced in recent times. I get young people in my constituency calling on me to consider a reduction in the voting age. I have an open mind on the subject. My view is that we should agree on a common age of majority for a series of things. It is slightly daft that we have different ages of adulthood for learning to drive, voting, getting married, buying alcohol or tobacco, and serving in the armed forced. It is not beyond our wit to agree an age at which most young people achieve a degree of maturity and at which they can exercise adult decisions. I do not have a particular view about whether that should be 16, 17, 18 or some other age, but that is not the point.

That debate should be had in general terms, not in the specific circumstances of one poll. It is utterly wrong that unilaterally for one election or one referendum we make a change, and for that not to apply elsewhere. Whether 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to support the Union or independence is not the point. The debate should be had in general terms.

Pete Wishart: Following the Edinburgh agreement, this is the only election or referendum the Scottish Parliament will have control of. We have no say on UK elections. We do not even have a say on Scottish parliamentary elections. Of course, if we had responsibility for them, we would make sure that 16 and 17-year-olds could vote. We have crofter commissions and local government elections in which we can have 16 and 17-year-olds voting, but we do not have legislative responsibility for UK or Scottish parliamentary elections.

Iain Stewart: The hon. Gentleman is making a point about a continuing process of devolution and, in the future, it might fall within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to decide these things. That is a separate debate. But to make the decision unilaterally for one poll in what I believe is the self-interest of the party—whether that is misplaced or not is another question—is fundamentally wrong in my view.

Mr McCann: It might interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the Scottish Parliament does have control of other elections. It has control of local government elections and, in 2012, it decided not to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. I fear he may be getting incorrect information from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart).

Iain Stewart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful point of information. I return to the fundamental point. If the age of franchise is changed, it should apply to every election or none, and not to one poll. I do not have sufficient knowledge of the referendum

15 Jan 2013 : Column 804

on crofting, but I suspect that is not quite as significant an issue as the future of the United Kingdom. There should be consistency and the debate should be in general terms, not unilaterally for one poll.

My next concern is about the electorate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) eloquently and powerfully explained, it is utterly wrong that an EU citizen temporarily living in Scotland should have a say on the future of the United Kingdom, but a Scot living in England does not. If I, for example, chose to live and work in Barcelona, I would not feel any right to take part in Catalonia’s future constitutional relationship with the rest of Spain. It would not cross my mind to exercise an opinion on that, so why should a Spaniard living in Edinburgh or wherever decide on the future of the United Kingdom?

Mr MacNeil: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s view but if I was so fortunate as to live in Barcelona and a Catalonian vote was called, I think I might express my opinion on the issue, given that it would affect me day to day. Perhaps that is a personal difference between the two of us, but I would care about the country and the environment in which I was living and therefore I would take part.

Iain Stewart: It is perfectly reasonable for someone living in a city or an area of a country to take part in very local polls concerning the local infrastructure and services. That is quite a different matter from someone being able to take part in a fundamental decision about the constitutional status of their home country.

Mr MacNeil: I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the upstream issue is that all the matters that he is talking about are affected by the framework in which they operate. One of the reasons for wanting an independent Scotland was highlighted last week in the debate on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. The majority of Scottish MPs were against it, yet it is being foisted on Scotland against the wishes of Scottish society. If we want to produce a welfare situation that is perfect and better for Scotland, we have to first sort out the constitutional framework around it before we can get to that point.

Iain Stewart: The hon. Gentleman is confusing a number of issues. He wants independence and separation so that Scotland can decide these things for itself. The point that I am making is that a EU citizen who is neither Scottish nor English would be able to influence that vote in Scotland, but a Scot living in England would not.

Mr MacNeil rose

Iain Stewart: Forgive me, but I want to make progress.

We all have opinions on the constitutional status of all sorts of countries. I have views on what should happen in the United States, Australia and Germany, but I do not seek to vote on them. It is fundamentally wrong that such a situation could exist. I echo the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest for a very simple change so that the franchise for Westminster elections also applied to Scotland. That would go a long way to removing many of the anomalies

15 Jan 2013 : Column 805

that have been mentioned with regard to members of the armed forces and their families not being able to take part in this poll. We call on these people to fight and to, potentially, give up their lives for their country, yet they will not be given the right to take part in its future direction.

Mrs Laing: Does my hon. Friend agree that if the franchise were based on that used for UK Parliament elections, as he has just suggested, instead of on the local government franchise, that would also mean not only that Scots living outside Scotland would have a right to vote, but that people who are eligible to vote in UK parliamentary elections in other parts of the United Kingdom, but who were born in Scotland and can prove it, would, too?

Iain Stewart: My hon. Friend makes another excellent point and I echo it. The other key point is—I mentioned this in my intervention on her speech—that it is up to the Scottish Parliament to decide this. There is nothing in the order that prohibits that. I urge it to look reasonably and rationally at the issue. The referendum must be fair if it is to have legitimacy. If it does not have legitimacy, I fear that we will just perpetuate uncertainty.

That leads me to my next point, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also made in his opening speech. The referendum must be the end of the matter. Whatever the result, it must be clear and binding. As my right hon. Friend also said, if the decision is a yes vote—I fervently hope that it will be a massive no vote—negotiations will have to begin. I want clarity from those on the Government Front Bench on what will happen if there is a very narrow yes vote and negotiations begin on the terms of the divorce. What if the reality does not match the separatists’ rhetoric on issues such as Scotland’s membership of the EU, adoption of the single currency or any one of the number of issues that are coming to light? What if the deal for Scotland is not nearly as favourable as first envisaged? Is there scope for a second referendum within the time scale, the end date of which is 31 December 2014? Either way, I do not want a second referendum to be called in the event of a narrow yes or no vote. The decision has to be clear and final, to avoid the kind of ongoing uncertainty that existed in Quebec following a narrow no vote. That vote did not end the matter, and the separatists have come back again and again to try to get their way. Thankfully, they have not achieved it. There could be a similar danger here, and I would like clarification on what such a situation would mean for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

On the timing of the referendum, I wish that we could just get on with it. I slightly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest on this matter, although she was right to say that the longer the debate goes on, the more the unsavoury consequences of separation and the confusion of the SNP’s position come to light.

Mr MacNeil: This talk of uncertainty seems to be unfounded, as many investors have come to Scotland in the past year. Certainly, the only time I have heard the subject raised has been in the context of the US Government recently getting worried about the noises coming from the Conservative party about leaving the European Union. Does the hon. Gentleman think that such talk in the Conservative party should end?

15 Jan 2013 : Column 806

Iain Stewart: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. Constitutional uncertainty is potentially dangerous for the economy, although I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I started to talk about the EU argument. The danger for Scotland is real, however. This ongoing uncertainty could be very damaging, not only for Scotland’s economy but for the economy of the whole United Kingdom. I am a fervent Unionist, and I believe that we are better together. The terms of the referendum must be clear and fair, and the result must be one that can be accepted. I wish that we could just get on and have the referendum as soon as possible.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. This debate is time limited, and the wind-ups will start at 6.30 pm, so I must ask Members for self-discipline and time restraint to ensure that everyone may be heard.

4.52 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): I will certainly try to be brief. I want first to hark back to my intervention on the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). I noticed the look of surprise on many faces around the Chamber at the time, and I wonder whether we could get some clarification on the franchise question. I have certainly heard of an electoral registration officer saying that a person had to spend 50% of their time in their place of residence before the officer would be willing to register them to vote there. Given that the question of the franchise for this referendum is so complicated, a bit of clarity would be helpful. If the hon. Lady’s interpretation of it is correct, I would suggest that she was not over-egging her pudding but that she has instead brought forth a political confection worthy of Mary Berry.

It was a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) this afternoon. He encapsulated many of the arguments that have been around Scottish politics for many years. I also want to support the section 30 order, and in doing so I congratulate the Secretary of State on the way in which he has conducted himself, not only during the negotiations but over the past few days. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) is in his place. He toured the media and the radio stations trying to provoke a negotiation before a decision had been made, and the Secretary of State was quite right to say that we would have the referendum and look at the decision before moving to the next stage, whatever it might be. The hon. Member for Moray should look at what he said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle). When she asked him about nuclear submarines and the defence question, he told her that no negotiation could take place until the country had made a decision.I hope that he will reflect on that over the next few days.

It is right that the Scottish Government should have the right to make the referendum in Scotland. This is about the spirit of devolution and about this Parliament handing over authority. That we are doing so calls into question the charge that is often made about Westminster: that we want to keep control. This is about giving control away. I think that this Parliament should get

15 Jan 2013 : Column 807

credit for being willing to hand over this responsibility, with no ifs, buts or maybes. That is the true spirit of devolution.

This debate has divided Scotland for most of my political life. The pursuit and achievement of a separate Scotland, to which the hon. Gentlemen from the Scottish National party are only too willing to commit themselves, would take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. What motivates them above all else is their desire to see the break-up of the UK—the most successful political and social union. And yet, as we have heard from the contributions today, there is integration across the United Kingdom. There are Scots living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and there are Welsh, English and Northern Irish people living in Scotland. It is that integration that is causing some of the complications—some would say anomalies—in who is entitled to vote.

This Parliament must have respect for the Scottish Parliament, but respect is a two-way process. I beseech the hon. Gentlemen who represent the Scottish National party in this House to stop setting up Aunt Sallies by making out that Westminster is trying to do them down. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is a serial offender. This morning, he tried to suggest that the Labour Opposition might abstain in today’s vote. We have made it very clear from the beginning that we support the section 30 order. Frankly, it is not worthy of somebody who wants to be a parliamentarian and statesman in Scotland to pretend that other political parties are not being honourable in this matter. Mr Speaker may be interested to know that he also called into question the impartiality of the Chair. I hope that he does get to speak, because he accused this House of being almost exclusively Unionist in the people it calls and said that the SNP would get only 10 minutes. Well, the hon. Member for Moray spoke for 15 minutes earlier, so we have superseded the aspirations of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire.

I raise those points because if we are to spend the next 18 months talking about the future of Scotland, we must do so from a point of mutual respect and stop throwing brickbats at each other and denigrating those who do not agree with us. This is the most important issue that most of us will ever face, not just for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren, regardless of which side of the argument we are on. A little mutual respect would not go amiss.

Mr MacNeil: Say something nice about us then.

Mrs McGuire: I will not even go there. The hon. Gentleman knows whether I want to say anything nice about him. He is a pleasant enough person outside the Chamber. Sadly, in the Chamber he tends to heckle rather than make positive contributions.

I will move on to the issues that have been raised today. The first is the role of the Electoral Commission. We need to have an independent arbiter on the wording of the question and the financing of the campaigns. All sides need to have confidence in the process. That means that it should not be subject to political interference and that one element must not be able to overrule the others. I hope that when we hear the hon. Member for

15 Jan 2013 : Column 808

Perth and North Perthshire later in the debate, he will give us some comfort and say that the SNP will not second-guess the Electoral Commission, but will work with it in producing a question and a set of criteria that we can all work to and have confidence in.

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee said earlier that the question preferred by the Scottish Government was put to a series of independent experts who suggested that it was politically loaded. We cannot go into a referendum debate where the question is politically loaded.

Pete Wishart: Will the right hon. Lady remind me of the question that the commission that her party put together with the Conservative and the Liberals came up with?

Mrs McGuire: I am not quite sure what the point of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is.

Pete Wishart: A Unionist commission was put together to try to determine a question for the referendum that it thought was fair. Will the right hon. Lady remind me what question it decided on?

Mrs McGuire: That is a typical red herring being drawn across. We say that we want—[Interruption.]No. The Electoral Commission should be, and is to all intents and purposes, the independent arbiter. The Labour party when it was in government, and even the Conservatives, have accepted that if an independent arbiter is appointed, it is incumbent on the Government to honour that public authority and take into account the views of that independent arbiter.

I said that I would not speak for too long so I will not. However, we cannot go into the next 18 months in a spirit that is about beating each other over the head with arguments and counter-arguments that are sometimes not even relevant. I ask all sides to come together and have a robust, frank and mature debate with the Scottish people. That is what the referendum campaign demands.

I represent the constituency of Stirling which includes the Church of the Holy Rude where the first crowned king of the United Kingdom—King James VI and I—was crowned and became the monarch of the United Kingdom. My area also includes Bannockburn and Stirling bridge, and saw Rob Roy MacGregor and all the rest of the iconic figures in Scottish history. This debate, however, is not about the 13th, 14th or 17th century; it is about the 21st century. I am happy to give over, under a section 30 order, powers to the Scottish Parliament.

I voted for the Scottish Parliament and I want it to succeed. I want us to remain part of the United Kingdom, and if we hand over that power, the Scottish Parliament has the responsibility to exercise it with maturity and discretion, and to recognise that the current Scottish Government do not represent all the views of the entire Scottish people. Yes, we hand over that power—perhaps not with eagerness but with some understanding of the constitutional arrangements within the United Kingdom—but the responsibility is with the Scottish Government to exercise that power with discretion and an understanding of the multiplicity of views.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 809

5.3 pm

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is a great privilege to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire). She has just given 10 minutes of a wonderful speech that welcomed the section 30 order and highlighted the dangers ahead of us. It is also a great pleasure to take part in the same debate as my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling). He gave a powerful and influential speech, which is why he is chair of the Better Together campaign. I can think of no one better to keep the United Kingdom together.

I want to reflect a little on the speech of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who is no longer in his seat. He gave the House an historical canter through Scotland and its relationship with England, and spoke of how parliamentary Chambers and institutions hold people together and become the focal point of where people do things. It is worth reflecting that everyone in this Chamber who has an accent similar to mine or calls themselves Scots can go abroad anywhere in the world, to the four corners of the globe, and chat to people from different countries who think that Scotland is already a separate country because it has its own separate identity, dialect and history. Indeed, constitutionally, being part of the UK means that we can benefit as a country from being part of that Union, while also sharing the wonderful opportunities that having a separate identity as a nation and being Scots brings. We should reflect on that; indeed, the hon. Gentleman allowed us to do so.

Our consideration of this section 30 order is quite an historic moment, because when we pass it this evening—and when it is passed in the other place—it will go north to the Scottish Parliament, which will then have all the powers it requires to run the referendum on separation. I am pleased that that is happening today for a number of reasons, but mainly because it is this party—the Scottish Labour party—that is the party of devolution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland said, one of the first Acts of the new Labour Government in 1997 was to bring forward the referendum to allow the people of Scotland to decide whether they wanted the Scottish Parliament.

Sheila Gilmore: One of the things I particularly remember is that we had a general election in May of that year and the referendum at the beginning of September—a piece of speedy action that the current Scottish Government could do with emulating.

Ian Murray: I am delighted that my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour has made that point. We should reflect on the fact—the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the leader of the SNP in this House, mentioned this in his contribution—that the SNP has been in existence for 75 years pushing this constitutional point, but does not quite know the answers to the big questions now that they are being asked. With consensus from most Members in the House, the Labour Government were able to proceed with the referendum speedily and give the Scottish people their opportunity to decide whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament.

The process did not stop there, because it was those of us on these Benches—the Scottish Labour party—who

15 Jan 2013 : Column 810

delivered the Calman commission and the Scotland Act 1998. Devolution was always supposed to be a process. The 1999 commencement of the Scottish Parliament was never supposed to be the full stop in this constitutional journey, which has continued. Crucially, however, it has continued only under the Scottish Labour party. The Scottish National party has now taken control of the Scottish Parliament. What we have seen since 2007—although more so since 2011—is a party that has taken the wonderful institution that is the Scottish Parliament and turned it into little more than a talking shop for the ruling party, with commanding majorities on its scrutiny Committees. We have only to think about some of the Committees in this House to see how powerful that scrutiny process can be in holding the Executive to account. I can think of numerous occasions on which that has happened, including a Backbench Business debate in the House last week—prompted by a report from the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills—that changed the Government’s policy on dealing with pub companies. That happened because of the power of the Committees in this House.

Gemma Doyle: Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that the Deputy First Minister has today written a blog piece, which is posted on a Scottish Government website—she has indicated that she will now do this regularly—in which she says that all Departments and parts of the Scottish Government are now working on a transition process? Is he as concerned as I am about the amount of public money—taxpayers’ money—that is now being spent on a political campaign when it could be used to tackle Scotland’s shocking levels of long-term unemployment?

Ian Murray: I am delighted by that intervention, because it shows the entire raison d’être of the current majority in the Scottish Parliament—a Parliament that was not designed for any one party to get a majority, as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said. Now that the SNP has the trust of the Scottish people—who have given it a mandate through its majority in the Scottish Parliament—it is using all the power that has been bestowed on it to deliver constitutional change, rather than dealing not just with long-term unemployment, but with the absolutely shameful scenes of queues outside food banks such as in my constituency. I would rather that the entire effort of the civil service and the Scottish Parliament were focused on those issues, not just on dealing with the constitution. Many Members on the Labour Benches who talk to their constituents on the doorsteps realise that the issues out there are far wider than the constitution, which ranks very low down on the list of priorities of the people of Scotland.

The latest piece of devolution that we have in our hands today is the biggest question of all to be given to the Scottish people. Some have used the phrase, “a referendum made in Scotland”. This has to be a referendum not only made in Scotland, but by the Scottish people: not a referendum concocted by the First Minister and the SNP, not a referendum that is to deceive, and not a referendum that is unclear, ambiguous or a sham. That is why consensus in the Scottish Parliament is so important. In every major constitutional debate about Scotland in this House and in the other place under the previous Government, we sought consensus. Consensus is the way to take devolution work forward and to provide trust to the Scottish people.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 811

The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs commented on that point in the report it produced last week, as the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), mentioned earlier. I will not give a précis of that speech for the SNP Members who staged a walk-out when he was speaking. The Committee’s report concluded that while the Scottish Parliament will have full powers to run the referendum following the passing of the section 30 order, it should not just force through decisions using the SNP’s parliamentary majority, and consensus should be sought to make the referendum fair, concise and conclusive.

I worry about that aspect. Can we trust—here is another Scottish word for the Hansard reporters—the sleekit First Minister and the SNP to do what is in the best interests of Scotland, rather than what is in the best interests of the First Minister and the SNP? I think the jury is well and truly out on that point. The track record of the SNP and the First Minister on a variety of issues in the past few months has cast doubt on their ability to be fair, transparent and honest about the referendum and the consequences for the future of my country. We have had the First Minister’s confusion about whether he received advice on Scotland’s membership of the European Union. We have had a flip-flop on what Scotland’s currency would be. Would it be the euro, the pound, or the groat? We have even had suggestions from SNP Members that we might even use the Chinese renminbi in Scotland. We have had the First Minister taking credit when unemployment in Scotland has been falling, but blaming everyone else when it has been going up.

Mr McCann: Does my hon. Friend share my concerns about the head of the Scottish civil service? It has been accused in the past by many people of being native and refusing to speak truth to power. Is it not a concern that, when it comes to the referendum, it will not have the courage to speak up against the First Minister who controls all?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are in danger. We are debating the section 30 order, rather than the referendum. A lot of Members want to speak, so I do not want to tempt Members on to another subject.

Ian Murray: I will take your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has his remarks on the record. That issue will be a concern to many Members of this House and to the people of Scotland.

I was going through issues on which I have concerns about the section 30 order, and what the SNP Government might do with it. I was talking about the First Minister taking credit for falling unemployment, but blaming everyone else when it goes up. We have had the arc of prosperity with Ireland and Iceland, until they went bust; then it was Norway, and now it is back to Iceland again. We have been told that Scots should not have taken part in Team GB, but the First Minister has taken credit for the gold medals—indeed, some SNP Members in this House play in the UK parliamentary football team. The issues are there for people to see.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 812

We have seen the SNP Government espouse a nuclear-free Clyde, while changing their 60-year opposition to NATO. They want a nuclear-free Scotland, but it is okay for a US submarine to sail into Faslane and launch a nuclear weapon from Scottish shores. That is a ludicrous position which is yet another fudge on the Scottish people. They are changing their own rules to suit themselves, and that is why they might change the rules of the section 30 order to suit the referendum. Mr Deputy Speaker, I sense that I may be ruled out of order shortly, so I will say merely that the list is endless, and move on.

To emphasise what the Scottish Affairs Committee has said, the Scottish Government cannot be both player and referee with regard to section 30. The Electoral Commission has a vital role as an independent overseer of the process that includes critical aspects of funding and, most importantly, the wording of the question. The commission sent an updated briefing to hon. Members, and the first thing it says about the section 30 order is that the commission will have responsibility at the referendum for assessing the intelligibility of the proposed question. That is a critical part of its involvement, and this is where my discomfort lies.

The Minister deserves credit, along with the Secretary of State, but he was questioned in the House more than a dozen times during the debate on the Edinburgh agreement about what mechanics would be used if the Scottish Government ignored the commission’s recommendations, and all he could say was that he was confident that the Scottish Government would do the right thing and that the Scottish people would judge their actions. The SNP’s track record on straight answers about Scotland’s future shows that it has form in this area, and it would be wrong not to put on record that that is a real concern. The commission has been involved in every election in recent history. Its involvement in the AV referendum resulted in the question being changed on several occasions until it and the Government were satisfied that it was fair. No Government have ever overruled the commission, and the First Minister should not be the first to do so. This decision is the most important that Scotland has faced for 300 years, and that makes the role of the commission integral to the entire referendum process.

The commission’s role is also integral to campaign funding. The order does not give any details about funding, so it will be dictated by the memorandum of agreement between both Governments signed as part of the Edinburgh agreement. The commission will make recommendations after a consultation, but the SNP has already indicated that it would overrule the commission on several points, including in respect of much lower limits for businesses and unions to campaign, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour party, indicated. Those limits are much lower than those recommended for the AV and Welsh referendums in respect of the umbrella campaigning groups and, as he also said—this point stuck in my head—even lower than for local government elections. Those of us who have helped run those elections know how low those limits are for getting information out to electors and voters, who deserve to have the information in front of them so that they can make an informed decision. The people of Scotland deserve as much information as possible in order for them to decide whether Scotland is better together or separate from the rest of the UK.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 813

Then, there is the question itself. The SNP has been challenged time and time again to say whether it would abide by the commission’s recommendations on the question, but it has refused to commit to answering. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the leader of the SNP in the House, was questioned four times during his contribution, and all he could say was that the Scottish Parliament would have regard to the recommendations. Any SNP Member could intervene now and say, “Yes, it’s a matter for the Scottish Parliament, but the SNP and the Yes Scotland campaign will abide by the recommendations, whatever they are, of the commission.” The fact that they have not done that sends out a very strong message that our concerns about the question, with regards to the section 30 order, are not just valid but very real.

It is critical that the commission’s recommendations be respected, otherwise the Scottish people will not get the fair and transparent referendum that they ought to have. The section 30 order passes the power to the Scottish Parliament, and I am proud that the party with a track record of devolution will be wholeheartedly supporting it. We will continue to scrutinise the process both in this place and in Holyrood to ensure that the decision is decisive, legal and fair.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I remind Members that we are going to finish the Back-Bench speeches at 6.30 pm, which allows each Member about 10 or 11 minutes. If some Members creep over that, however, someone will drop off the edge, and that would not be fair.

5.18 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). It makes me the third Edinburgh Member to take part in the debate—the other two have been around the Chamber, so we might make it a full house by the end of the evening, depending on the time available.

I welcome the fact that the agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments on the section 30 order was reached relatively speedily, because it would have soured the debate in Scotland, if there had been continuing disagreement—or, worse still, dispute, leading to legal challenge—over the terms of the referendum. It is right and necessary that the referendum proceeds on the basis of agreement between the two Governments and Parliaments.

It is certainly true, of course, that the Scottish Government were elected with a clear mandate to hold a referendum on independence. If we add together the minority parties, almost a majority of the electorate voted that way. I recognise that, but equally, as one of my hon. Friends said earlier, we in this House have a mandate from the people of Scotland—a mandate achieved just one year before the Scottish Parliament elections. All the parties put to the Scottish people their own constitutional programmes as part of their general election manifestos. At that point, the results were somewhat different. It is right that there should be agreement—not just between Governments, but across parties—and I

15 Jan 2013 : Column 814

welcome how that was achieved quite speedily through negotiations. I pay tribute to all those involved in that achievement.

It is good that an agreement should be reached on an all-party basis. I accept that all parties here—at the end of the day, all Members from Scotland—want to do what is best for Scotland. We obviously have different interpretations and opinions of what that means, but I accept that this is the overriding intention from all sides. Whatever our different views in the constitutional debate, it is essential, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) said, to conduct these debates in as mature and inclusive fashion as we can, while recognising the strongly held emotions and views on both sides of the debate.

That is because we need to recognise one important fact—whatever happens in the referendum, the next morning we will all get up in the same country, with the same people facing the same issues and the same problems, with the same strengths and weaknesses and probably the same weather, perhaps regrettably, as we had before the referendum. Depending on the result of referendum, of course, hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Scotland will either be delighted or shocked by the result. If the vote for separation wins—the indication is that it will not, but nothing is certain—those who are strongly committed to the UK will be bitterly disappointed. If the people of Scotland vote to stay in the UK, many who have campaigned for independence, in some cases for all their lives, will be equally bitterly disappointed.

The worst outcome for Scotland and rest of UK would be if the referendum were to be followed by a period of rancour and division rather than one where all in Scotland tried to make the outcome, whatever it was, work as well as it could for both Scotland and the UK. If the result is a win for independence, it would, as the Secretary of State pointed out earlier, be the duty of Scottish politicians who were against separation to make sure that the new arrangements between Scotland, the rest of UK and the EU work as well as possible. Equally, if independence is rejected, as I think it will be, those politicians who have campaigned for independence should accept the result, urge all their supporters to do so as well, and make it clear that the result is, if not for all time—I understand that people will not want to say for ever—at least valid for a generation, as has been said in the past. I hope that they will accept the result and not seek to overturn it at the first opportunity.

The tone of that post-referendum debate—and, indeed, the tone before it—will be significantly affected by how the participants and voters on both sides feel about the way the pre-referendum debate was conducted. If there is a feeling that the rules of the campaign have been bent or twisted to benefit one side or the other, there will be a much higher chance of the debate, both before and after the referendum, being diverted into issues of process and becoming bitter and negative, rather than being one on the fundamental issues. That is why I share the hope that the Scottish Government will approach the use of the powers devolved to them in as consensual a manner as possible, given the obvious differences between all concerned on the fundamental issues. I believe that the SNP needs to make greater progress and to show a greater commitment to consensus on that issue.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 815

The ground rules need to be clearer in a number of respects, so let me spend a couple of minutes explaining them. First, I strongly agree with colleagues about the importance of the Electoral Commission’s supervision of the electoral rules, and I believe agreement on the question is essential. I can understand why the SNP leader here will not give a blanket commitment to accept the Electoral Commission’s recommendations whatever it says and in whatever circumstances, but a much stronger indication of a willingness to accept those recommendations would certainly have been welcome today. I hope that the SNP will reflect on that and recognise that, as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said, flouting those recommendations might jeopardise their own case in the referendum as well as the nature of the debate.

Certainly, fair rules are needed on spending limits; I will not go over the points that have been made on that. Fair rules are also needed on how the civil service is used, and I endorse the comments that have been made on that.

On votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, I believe that some of the practical difficulties can be overcome, but I do not have time to go into those in detail. If there are to be such votes, however, every effort should be made to give all 16 and 17-year-olds the ability to vote. At one stage in the process, there was a suggestion that they could opt in—apply to have a vote—but that would be a recipe for an undemocratic outcome and a lower participation rate. They should be added to the register either through the normal process in October, or through a special canvass directed specifically at 16 and 17-year-olds to ensure that all of them, not just a select handful, can vote.

The franchise issue has been raised by colleagues on both sides of the House. Although I understand some of the questions raised about the agreement between the parties and the two Parliaments, ultimately the most consistent and logical way forward is to base the voting qualification for the referendum on that for Scottish Parliament elections. Any choice of franchise has anomalies, but that is the simplest solution. I understand the point expressed by those who asked why Scots living outside Scotland should not be allowed to vote in the referendum, but it does not stand up to much examination once we consider some of the practical difficulties. It sounds a good idea in theory for Scottish Olympic champions and medal winners living outside Scotland to be able to vote, but why stick to those who won medals in 2012? Why not include those who won medals in 2008 or 2004? Why not include Commonwealth games champions from 2014 or 2010? The list goes on.

The issue of well known, leading Scottish football managers outside Scotland was raised. I suspect that there might be Scottish football managers quite a long way down the English football divisions and beyond. Where do we draw the line on who is allowed to vote? The suggestion was made—in all seriousness, I think—that people who were born but were no longer living in Scotland should be allowed to vote. Again, that would involve anomalies that could not be overcome: someone who had been born in Germany to Scottish service personnel and their families, who came back to Scotland for 40 years and then left Scotland, would not be

15 Jan 2013 : Column 816

allowed to vote, while somebody who had been born in Scotland and whose parents left three days later would be allowed to do so.

There is also an issue of wider principle. If we move away from the idea that voters in the referendum are those who have chosen to or, by birth, live and work in Scotland and have made or are making a continuing commitment in Scotland, we inevitably move to a different basis for the franchise and a definition based on ethnicity, racial origins or something of that nature. Once we do that, we can unleash, although I am sure that no Member intends that, all sorts of emotions and dark forces. In Quebec, for example, when the last referendum vote was very close, some of those who supported Quebec independence objected to the fact that English Canadians took part in the vote. The SNP has, as a party—all credit to it—accepted that its nationalism is based on a civic nationalism of those who live and work in Scotland. That has contributed to the fact that, for the most part, we have escaped some of the excesses that have existed in other countries when there have been nationalism debates. We want to keep it that way.

I accept that there are issues about people who have temporarily left Scotland for work—above all, the question of the forces—which I hope the Scottish Parliament will address in its decisions.

Finally, I want to say something about whether we can trust the SNP in relation to its commitment to the Edinburgh agreement. While I am as ready as any of my colleagues to wonder about the extent of its commitment to the spirit as well as the letter of the agreement, I strongly agree with the right hon. Member for Gordon and others who have pointed out that in the event of any blatant misuse of the powers devolved by the order, the SNP—which supports independence for Scotland—would lose out in the referendum process and the referendum debate. We should bear it in mind that we are devolving secondary-legislation powers to the Scottish Parliament, and that if those powers were blatantly misused, the issue would arise of whether they were being used consistently with the powers devolved to it under the Scotland Act. In that context, there could, in the last resort, be a legal challenge.

I would rather the referendum had taken place by now, and I would certainly rather it took place before October 2014, but that date is not so far away now. I am confident that, just as in 1997 the people of Scotland made a mature decision to back the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament, they will decide on this occasion to stand by the Union that has served Scotland well for more than 300 years. I look forward to their having the opportunity to express their views in the referendum, and then to build firmly on the success that devolution has proved to be since it was established in 1999.

5.31 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important debate on the constitutional future of Scotland. It is a pleasure to follow a Lothians colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). I also welcomed the Secretary of State’s introductory remarks, and also those of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), who spoke with passion and determination.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 817

Although the order is technical in nature and part of a complicated statutory process, it is important for us not to lose sight of the bigger picture: the kind of Scotland in which we all wish to live in the future. Scotland’s constitutional future is about the people of Scotland, and not about the machinations of the political classes. It is therefore vital—especially given the divergence of views on the question of separation —for this process, and the eventual referendum, to be free of partisan interference. Of course the campaign itself will be intensely political, as is only right and proper in a democratic system, but the statutory mechanism that affords that opportunity must be free of undue influence on the part of politicians from either Parliament. By supporting the order, the House can ensure that the UK Parliament plays its constitutional role by legislating and thus providing the Scottish Parliament with the legal footing required to hold a referendum in 2014, although many of us believe that it should be held earlier in order to end the ongoing uncertainty of Scotland’s future. As I have said, it is also of the utmost importance for these powers to be used with a great deal of responsibility, and with the best interests of the people of Scotland in mind.

The order guarantees that the referendum will be made in Scotland, and that supporters of separation will not be able to assign any blame to Westminster with any legitimacy or credibility if they disagree with its outcome. However, I and many other people are worried that the SNP Scottish Government may attempt to steal an unfair advantage through the way they set the rules. Therefore, as we have heard time and again in our debate, the role of the Electoral Commission is crucial. It can act as an unbiased and impartial referee, as opposed to Alex Salmond being both player and referee. The involvement of the Electoral Commission would be a significant step in ensuring that the referendum is fair, legal and decisive. Without its involvement and, crucially, the acceptance by all of its advice and guidance, I will remain unconvinced that the SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament will not manipulate the situation for its own narrow nationalistic ends.

There are some specific areas of concern, the first of which is the proposed question. An impartial body should play the prime role in setting the exact wording of the question, the answer to which could change the future direction of Scotland for ever. It will be the most important decision taken by the Scottish people in over 300 years. The SNP has already attempted to use its majority in the Scottish Parliament to propose questions it believes will deliver its desired outcome. Those questions have been deemed biased by the cross-party Scottish Affairs Committee, as we heard earlier from its esteemed Chair. Reassuringly, this order highlights that there should be one question, to ensure the outcome is decisive, not blurred as a result of there being an additional question on an as yet undefined proposition.

Without the input of the Electoral Commission, the question of the referendum date could also be a concern. The SNP Scottish Government have already delayed holding the referendum until autumn 2014, believing, I suspect, that the anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn will somehow stir the “Braveheart” feelings that the SNP believes are latent in us all, but inciting the politics of identity and ethnicity is neither a progressive nor modern thing to do in what is a diverse and multicultural world.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 818

A further concern is the suggested extreme limitation on spending during the referendum campaign. The SNP Scottish Government have proposed an even lower sum than the Electoral Commission. That could endanger the ability of campaigners to communicate their message effectively to the electorate. Meanwhile, the First Minister will retain his £1 million army of spin doctors throughout the duration of the campaign. Foreign donations should be unacceptable, too. All these concerns could be kept firmly in check through the Electoral Commission playing its authoritative and impartial role.

I believe voter franchise is important and take the view that 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the referendum—although I accept the questions raised about the practicalities, and also believe that if we do extend the franchise to that age group, we must ensure that all 16 and 17-year-olds have the opportunity to vote. However, I also believe Scottish armed services personnel residing or serving outwith Scotland should be able to participate in the referendum. We have discussed that point at length today.

In conclusion, it is essential that the referendum mechanism is determined by those who are outwith the argument, namely the Electoral Commission. Such an important and irrevocable decision must be clear of opportunistic politics from both sides of the argument, in order to guarantee that the outcome is decisive, not subject to drawn-out legal challenge and, most importantly, fair. I hope that, with these parameters agreed by both sides in the debate, the decision will be accepted by all, for the sake of our nation.

5.39 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice); we all, in this House, enjoy hearing him reading out his speech to such great effect. I turned up to this Chamber—[Interruption.] I managed to get through two sentences before, as you have noticed, Mr Deputy Speaker, the hecklers started to kick in. Many people in Scotland have been watching today’s debate, and I wish the cameras could pan across on to the hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches to show the ugly face of Westminster Unionism. I was on my feet for two sentences before the heckling started and the attempts to shout me down began. Unfortunately, we commonly see that in this House.

Fiona O’Donnell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Pete Wishart: No, I am not giving way to the hon. Lady. When I came here today, I thought that we were going to have a good, positive debate. I thought that we all agreed that devolving this power to the Scottish Parliament under section 30 was a good idea, but what have we seen? We have had such a sour debate today. We have heard personal attacks, once again, on the First Minister—we do expect those. We have heard a surly acceptance of the fact that the Scottish Parliament has a right to deliver this referendum—a thing both Governments have agreed. I thought that today would be almost a joyous affair, which is why it has been so depressing to listen to one dreary speech after the next, and all the incessant and consistent negativity. [Interruption.] Here we go again, Mr Deputy Speaker. I really hope that the people of Scotland are watching

15 Jan 2013 : Column 819

this, because they have to see how Labour Members respond to these debates. They are not interested in listening to the other part of the debate, and it is very unfortunate that, again and again, we have to listen to these voices attempting to shut things down. I believe it is a pleasure and privilege to speak in today’s debate.

Jim McGovern: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us why his whole party disappeared and, presumably, watched the debate on television, rather than be here.

Pete Wishart: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here at the time. I believe he is referring to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), and I was there for 20 minutes of his speech—

Jim McGovern: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I did not refer to any Member.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a point of order. Obviously, I am sure that hon. Members are desperate to get on to the debate on the section 30 order instead of picking each other off; I am sure that that is what we all want to hear.

Pete Wishart: Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. If he wants to have another go, I am prepared to give way to him, but I had no idea what he was suggesting then.

Jim McGovern: It appeared to me that the whole SNP group disappeared earlier for quite some time, and presumably they watched the debate on TV. I did not refer to any other Member of this House being a factor in that.

Pete Wishart: Yes, I was out of the House—we have been here for five hours, and Members come and go outside the House. I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman’s point is.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. It does not really matter whether somebody is in, out or indifferent. I am not really concerned about that. I am concerned about this debate, and we all want to hear what Pete Wishart wants to contribute.

Pete Wishart: Perhaps at last we can get on to the substance of this debate. I was so looking forward to debating this measure. Who would have thought that we would be here today confirming Scotland’s opportunity to determine its own future? We have the possibility and prospect of Scotland becoming a self-governing nation once again, joining the community of nations and making its own peaceful contribution to world affairs. We have the chance to become a country of our own, to make decisions for ourselves and to stand tall, with dignity, self-respect and pride, in the world. This is a fantastic moment, and I am pleased that we are here today debating the possibility, through this order, of Scotland achieving that very fine ambition.

Mrs Laing rose

Pete Wishart: Of course I will give way to the hon. Lady—we cannot hear enough from her.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 820

Mrs Laing: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Scotland already stands tall and proud as a nation in the world as part of the United Kingdom?

Pete Wishart: Absolutely, and is it not fantastic and fascinating that we have been able to achieve that? But let us imagine what more we can achieve. Let us imagine Scotland not getting involved in things such as illegal wars, not hosting weapons of mass destruction such as Trident but making a peaceful contribution to world affairs, and not doing what we have seen in the past 10 years. That is a Scotland I aspire to. That is what I think the Scottish people will choose once they have the opportunity to make this decision, and that is what is so exciting and so transformative about this whole debate—we have the possibility and prospect that our nation can once again become independent and make its own role in the world. There is nothing finer than that as an ambition, and I look forward to taking that debate forward.

Many people fought for that right. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) talked about some of the giants of the Scottish National party, who stood in this Chamber, exposed as we are continually and consistently to the barrage of overwhelming Unionist hostility—shouted down before we even get the first syllable out—but they still stood here and put the case for Scotland’s right to choose. I joined this party 20 years ago, in 1993, and Labour used to joke about the slogan, “Free by ’93”—it was quite a good joke. Now it is 63% and 2013—that is the difference. My hon. Friend was spot on: that has been achieved by the hard work of the Scottish National party Members of Parliament who inhabit these Benches and who have taken forward the case in the face of overwhelming hostility to and contempt for the idea of Scottish independence. They plugged away, they fought, they put the case and now they will be rewarded with a real opportunity for the Scottish people to make the decision on their own.

I want to pay tribute not just to the giants of our movement who have fought so hard to achieve this result but to the ordinary activists—the people who turn up on cold, frozen Saturday mornings to hand out leaflets and encourage people to put the best interests of their country first. They do that week in, week out. They include people like my constituent John Cullens, who died just last year, still trying to serve his nation. He fought alongside me to try to secure electoral victory in Perth and North Perthshire and was so excited about the prospect of a referendum for Scotland that he was always the first there and always the last to leave. As well as the giants of the party to whom my hon. Friend referred, let us remember the hard-working activists who have worked day in, day out to try to secure this result for our nation.

I want to congratulate both Governments and to pay tribute to the Minister, too, who worked exceptionally hard to deliver the Edinburgh agreement. I thought that the Secretary of State’s speech was the best today by far—it went way above any of the dreary speeches we heard from those on the Labour Benches, with their incessant negativity. It was good to hear from the Secretary of State. I also want to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy). He made a thoughtful and non-partisan speech and was prepared to recognise some of the things in the Edinburgh agreement, including how we were prepared to make progress. That is what the Edinburgh agreement was all

15 Jan 2013 : Column 821

about: two Governments working together. Even though there is a division between our strongly felt beliefs, we can still sit down together and come together for the common purpose of ensuring that the people of Scotland get the referendum to which they are entitled and that they deserve. Why can we not continue in the spirit engendered by the Edinburgh agreement? Why can we not start to debate the possibility of both options?

I paid tribute to the Secretary of State, but it was disappointing to hear his remarks over the weekend, when he said that he was not prepared even to consider some of the technical details of a yes vote in the referendum. Surely we owe it to the Scottish people to try to do some sort of preparatory work in case there is a yes vote—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman a little. I am sure that he wants to concentrate on the section 30 order rather than trying to drag the Ministers into a debate on the outcome of the referendum. We are not going to do that.

Pete Wishart: That is the point, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think we should consolidate the good will that led to the Edinburgh agreement. It is important that we start to build on that. Let us see what we can do to try to ensure that that spirit of co-operation between the two Governments continues throughout the referendum process so that we continue to serve the best interests of both Governments. Let us try to make the debate as respectful as possible.

Some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) were unfortunate. He talked about bringing respect into the debate, so let us do that. Let us stop referring to people as foreigners. Let us stop talking about border patrols. That brings no credit to our debate, so, please, if we can, let us leave that to the past. Instead, let us refer to people as friends and neighbours. That is what we should do throughout the debate. No longer foreigners, the people who live in the rest of the United Kingdom will always be friends and neighbours to me. Let us make sure that we continue to refer to them in that way. That is what the English people want, too. An Ipsos MORI poll showed that 64% of English people believe that there will still be a common bond with Scotland following a decisive vote in the Scottish referendum. That is great: it demonstrates that the ties across these islands will endure and strengthen following Scotland’s independence.

There are deeply held views and opinions, but let us make sure that the debate we are about to have is as respectful as possible. People are friends and neighbours in the House, and we are friends and neighbours across the country; let us continue to refer to each other as that. Let us not have people described as foreigners, and let us please not go anywhere near border patrols or border posts. It does no credit to the debate.

Anas Sarwar: No one on the Labour Benches used the words “foreigners” or “border controls”. The hon. Gentleman rightly says that we should respect each other as neighbours and friends in Scotland and in England. I hope the same principle applies Scot to Scot.

Pete Wishart: That is probably the most important point the hon. Gentleman has made. It is the key; we have to ensure that we refer to everybody in as friendly a

15 Jan 2013 : Column 822

way as possible. He was right in his new year statement: respect is the key element as we go forward, and I hope that Labour Members in this House who still have a contribution to make will respect that.

It is fantastic. The Scottish Parliament will deliver a referendum to the highest standard—a referendum that not just the people of Scotland but people throughout the United Kingdom will be proud of. It will be a model of transparency, fairness and propriety, informed by consultation and independent expert advice. The rules will be fair for everything from finance to broadcasts and mailshots. The playing field has to be, and will be, completely level.

Jim McGovern: Will the Scottish Government adhere to the independent expert advice of the Electoral Commission?

Pete Wishart: We do not know yet what the commission has to say. We will find out. The standards of the Scottish Parliament on these issues will be exactly the same as those of this House. During the Scotland Bill, the Electoral Commission was given the task of testing the question and making sure the rules were fair. If I can find the quote, its advice to the House might help the hon. Gentleman. The commission conceded that it is for elected parliamentarians to decide. I have often heard Labour and Conservative Members say that the Electoral Commission advises, elected Members decide. It happens in this House and it will happen in the Scottish Parliament.

Anas Sarwar rose

Pete Wishart: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

We will have a gold standard referendum. It will be to the highest possible standards—a referendum we can all be proud of. Yes, of course the Electoral Commission has to play a role; it is probably the most important role in firming up the referendum, but it is right that directly elected Members of Parliament and Members of the Scottish Parliament decide on the way forward. It happens in this House and it is exactly what will happen in the Scottish Parliament. There will be no difference in that respect.

One of the most exciting things for me is the prospect that the Edinburgh agreement and the section 30 order will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum. Members have probably heard me speak about that before. It is absolutely fantastic that those with the biggest stake in Scotland’s future will have the opportunity to participate in probably the biggest electoral event in their life. It is immensely exciting and we are all looking forward to it. I know that some Conservatives do not like the idea, but I think there is rough consensus among the Scottish political community—perhaps grudging among my Labour friends—that it is right for 16 and 17-year-olds to have the vote.

Next week, there is a Backbench Business debate on that issue, and I am sure that a number of my colleagues will be rushing to back the Scottish Government and the whole process of ensuring that 16 and 17-year-olds get the vote.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 823

Mrs Laing: If the hon. Gentleman really believes that it is right to widen the franchise to all those who have a stake in Scotland’s future, such as 16 and 17-year-olds, why will he not accept that people who temporarily do not happen to live in Scotland have a stake in its future too and should have a vote in the referendum?

Pete Wishart: I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said about the issue in her contribution. Yes, there is a huge debate about who does, and does not, have the opportunity to vote in Scotland’s referendum, which is right and proper. However, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Government Ministers, Labour spokespeople, members of the Scottish Government and MSPs have agreed that the fairest way to proceed is to have a franchise that is all about the people who live and work in Scotland. To try any other technical assessment or way of doing these things would lead to incredible difficulties and problems. I am happy and relaxed about the position. There will always be losers in these things, which I accept, but I think that both Governments and both big parties in the House agree that this is the way forward. There is no other way to do it.

It is unfortunate that some Scots feel disfranchised, but there will always be winners and losers when it comes to drawing up lists of people who can participate in such a referendum. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady is excited about the prospect of the youngest Scots—perhaps her nieces and nephews—having the opportunity to participate in a decision on their future. I can see that she is smiling, and agrees that it is a fantastic, transformative event, and an opportunity for the youngest participants in our democracy. I visit schools, like most Members in the Chamber, and in my 12 years as a Member of the House I have detected an increasing interest in Scottish politics among our young people. It is fantastic that they will be offered the most important choice in the referendum that they will ever have in their young lives.

Today marks the end of the involvement and role of the House in the formal process of Scotland’s referendum. It is all over; it is finished. We are grateful for the contributions from hon. Members, and we always enjoy hearing their views. Everybody in Scotland has given serious attention to their considered opinions, particularly from Conservative friends—people in Scotland are hanging on their every word. I hope that hon. Members across the House remain engaged with the debate.

Anas Sarwar: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Pete Wishart: No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

I do not think that MSPs can ever get enough of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). Her speeches should be circulated, to make sure that her considered views are seen by other Members. Today, however, is the last day on which there is a formal role in the independence referendum for Members of the House of Commons, which is right and proper. Of course it is a matter for the Scottish people through their directly elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. This is what the Scottish national party was elected to deliver, and it would be disingenuous if we did not do so.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 824

It is great that that is now a matter for the Scottish Parliament. Select Committees are still looking at the issue, but they are handicapped by the fact that they all approach it from a Unionist persuasion, so I do not know how useful they are. They all take a strident, antagonistic attitude towards Scottish independence, but some of them are more valuable than others. May I say ever so gently to the Members who serve on them that Select Committees that cannot bring themselves to say the word “independence” will probably be treated with less respect than others? Yes, we are interested in their views, which are noted, but for goodness’ sake let us try to make sure that we talk about independence. There are no separate countries in the world. If Scotland secures its independence, are these people trying to tell me that we will be the first separate country in the world? What a ridiculous proposition. The proposition to my Labour friends is independence: that is what ordinary countries try to secure and achieve, and that is what we will achieve in the autumn of 2014.

Today marks the end of the formal role of this place in the whole debate about Scotland’s referendum. We will continue to be interested in hon. Members’ views, and I hope that they remain engaged with the issue and offer their opinion to Scottish parliamentarians, but they should note that today is the last day that this place will have a formal role in the matter. We now move on to the substance of the debate. The process ends with the passing of the order. The people of Scotland will therefore face two propositions: they can have an independent Scotland that is prosperous and successful, which reflects Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, and promotes equality and social cohesion; a Scotland with a new place in the world; an independent nation participating fully in the community of nations. Or there could be a no vote: more Tory austerity; government that we no longer vote for; a UK—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying again, although I know that he did not want to do so. I also know that he did not want to abuse the amount of time that he has been given, and he will recognise that he has taken far more time than he ought. There are three more Members who wish to speak, and as he has friends in all parts of the House, he will not want to deny them the opportunity to speak.

Pete Wishart: We have had a six-hour debate and one side in the debate has had maybe half an hour of that, so with due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, we have—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I know the hon. Gentleman is not questioning my ruling. I have come into the Chair. I said to everybody that I wanted to try to share out the time evenly and I did not want anybody to take advantage of that. I know the hon. Gentleman would never dream of doing that. All I am saying is that I am sure he is coming towards the end. He is not going to get us into a debate on the referendum. I am sure he is about to wind up.

Pete Wishart: It is good that we get more than 10 minutes today to put the case for the independence side of the debate, but yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am winding up. Thank you very much for that.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 825

We pass the order today, a section 30 order, based on the Edinburgh agreement. Based on two Governments working together, we now go into the debate side of things. This is what I and my hon. Friends have been waiting for all our political lives. We relish a fight. We know what Scotland will decide in 2014. It will vote yes to independence and yes to full nationhood.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Three more speakers. Ten minutes each. I call Mr Michael McCann.

6.1 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): That must be the first time in the history of Parliament that there have been 21 minutes of non sequiturs in a single speech. The questions that were asked during the debate were not answered by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) at any point. For the first 10 or 11 minutes, I did not know what was going on.

I support the order to devolve to the Scottish Parliament the ability to hold a referendum on whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or becomes a separate nation. The most important words used by the Secretary of State at the start of the debate were that the referendum must be legal, fair and decisive. On the referendum’s legality and fairness, the House must recognise that once we pass the order today, that responsibility passes to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. Most importantly, responsibility for the decisiveness element passes to the Scottish people. It is important that we recognise that.

Nobody can take away the SNP’s victory in 2011. In political terms it was truly stunning, but that victory was not about Scotland’s constitutional future. It was about party politics. Perhaps in this month of January, when we will celebrate our national bard, I should remind Members from the Scottish National party of some words from “Tam o’Shanter”:

“But pleasures are like poppies spread—

You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;

Or like the snow falls in the river—

A moment white—then melts for ever.”

That is what happens when fighting political campaigns. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose; but you do not stay in power for ever.

All that changed because the SNP changed its political colours. Previously it was a political chameleon, taking on the colour of the territory it was fighting in. In 2007, it changed to a centre-left agenda, and continued that in 2011. In a perfect storm the SNP won a truly outstanding result in the 2011 elections, winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament. The party that places a separate Scottish state in big letters and big bright lights—that is the reason for its existence—then received the holy grail, a route map to a referendum on Scottish separation. The SNP has won the right to a referendum and we should not begrudge it that right because of its victory in 2011.

This is an opportunity to put the issue to bed not just for a generation, as the First Minister of Scotland wants, but for many, many generations. We should bear it in mind that the last time the issue was decided was 306 years ago come this May. It is my overwhelming desire that the fruits of democracy are plucked from the

15 Jan 2013 : Column 826

tree that was given to us in the result in 2011. If it were up to me, we would do it much sooner than the proposed date of autumn 2014.

However, many speakers in the debate have made the important point that we all share some trepidation about the motivation of the people who will receive the power if the order is passed. Some people once mused that devolution would see off Scottish nationalism for ever. Others thought that the voting system in Scotland was so cleverly devised that no single party would ever seize control, and certainly not the Scottish National party. How wrong can you get? Those are possibly two of the worst conclusions reached since Michael Fish said in October 1987:

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she had heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don't worry, there isn’t.”

We have to remember that, until a few months ago, the SNP was still arguing that it had the power, without the amendment to schedule 5 going through this House, to hold a referendum. We also have to look at how it has used its power in the Scottish Parliament—this is a perfectly valid point—since it gained an overall majority in 2011. It has ruthlessly shut down debate in the Scottish Parliament and, unlike this place, where hon. and right hon. Members of whatever political hue are free and able to scrutinise the work of Government Departments on Select Committees, no such scrutiny is allowed in Scotland. For those reasons I am not filled with any great hope that the SNP will not manipulate or attempt to manipulate the referendum to favour its preferred result.

I want to raise a new issue, which is perhaps unusual at this point in the debate. I hope that you will bear with me, Mr Deputy Speaker, because it is an important issue about the civil service. I intervened earlier on my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and made the point that the mechanics will be handled by the civil service. Civil service powers have not been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but they will play a crucial role.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will address two elements. First, questions have been asked about the permanent secretary and how he behaves towards the SNP Government. We have to be assured that the people at the top of the civil service in Scotland can give truth to power, and we must know that, if questions are raised about the legality or fairness of certain decisions, the civil service will stand up to its political masters. Secondly, there are 30,000 UK public servants in Scotland working for a range of different Government Departments. They have to have the ability to express their views in this debate and be free to speak. I would therefore welcome an assurance from the Under-Secretary that those individuals will have that freedom and that it will not impinge on their contracts of employment, under which they have to be impartial in their duties as civil servants. I hope that the Under-Secretary will touch on those two points when he responds to the debate.

In conclusion—I hope you recognise, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have cut back my speech substantially—it is important for the public, particularly the Scottish public, to recognise that all that this order does is devolve the power for the next stage of this debate to the Scottish Parliament. The date, the actual question and the rules of the referendum, including the financial rules, which have been discussed by a number of hon. and right hon.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 827

Members, will all be decided by the Scottish Parliament, which is dominated by an SNP majority. The eyes of Scotland, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world will be on them—do not let us down.

6.8 pm

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I have sat through the debate and listened intently. I have resisted the temptation—I have not risen to the bait—to jump up and intervene, although my patience was tested by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). To start off with an attack on Labour Members and then complain about people heckling is not the kind of behaviour that those looking from outside want to see. I think that the majority of people in Scotland—who would have been watching this debate had they not been following the Twitter feeds about, and taking more of an interest in, our new Scotland football manager—would have wanted to hear the much more positive tone that they would have expected when we in this House actually agree on a way forward.

As someone who campaigned for a Scottish Parliament, I was and am proud to be part of the party that delivered the devolution settlement and the Scottish Parliament, and, indeed, to have served in it for some 12 years. During that time, I always believed that I had a responsibility not only to my own political party and, of course, to my constituents first and foremost, but to stand up for the interests of Scotland.

In the context of some of the things that are going on in the Scottish Parliament under an SNP majority Government—something most of us thought we would never see—I must point out that it is rather ironic to see the legal and educational establishments in Scotland beginning to feel that the fundamental principle of the uniqueness of the Scottish legal and educational systems is being undermined by that Government. I do not want to dwell on that point, but I want to place the debate in context.

This is an important debate, and it is right and proper that we should give the Scottish Parliament this responsibility to deal with the referendum. That is why I regret the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. The people on the Labour side in the Scottish Parliament will take that responsibility seriously, but they have some concerns, as do the wider public. That is why it is important that the role of the Electoral Commission should be respected.

I can understand that individual SNP Members might not agree with everything that the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), says. Irrespective of their personal feelings, however, he has an important role in chairing that Committee on behalf of everyone in the House, and it would have been courteous of them to listen to his speech and take up their points with him, rather than simply absenting themselves from that part of the debate.

Just in case SNP Members missed it, I want to refer to one thing that the Chair of the Select Committee raised. He quoted from the Select Committee report, which said of the Scottish Government:

“Despite agreeing to the impartial oversight of the Electoral Commission, it has itself refused to commit to be bound by the

15 Jan 2013 : Column 828

decisions of this neutral referee. It is hard to escape the suspicion that it is following the mantra of British cycling of the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.”

When the Chair of a Select Committee makes such a point about the importance of having a level playing field and having an independent referee from outside the political process to advise on the wording and the funding and to ensure fair play, it is incumbent on the Scottish Government not only to listen and “probably” consider the matter—as we have heard—but to give a clear commitment that they will abide by the Electoral Commission’s advice.

In the past, I have been supportive of the idea of extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, notwithstanding the difficulties involved. I understand the concerns that have been expressed by people in my own party and others, but we now have the opportunity to allow young people in Scotland to vote on a matter of fundamental importance to their present situation as well as to their future. In order to do that, however, we must deal with all the technical aspects involved in drawing up the register and ensuring that everyone aged 16 and 17 is able to participate without any arbitrary cut-off points or problems. That needs to be done properly. When the section 30 order was first announced, I asked what work had been done on this aspect of the process. This will be a matter for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to take forward. It would have been helpful if we had been able to hear a bit more today about that positive work, rather than simply listening to attacks on Labour Members, especially those of us who have been supportive of that proposal.

A number of Members have mentioned the need to build consensus. One reason why we were able to move so quickly between the general election in 1997 and the referendum on the Scottish Parliament in September of that year was that political consensus was built. I hope that, as we take this debate forward following the passing of the section 30 order, we will see another attempt to build such political consensus, rather than having to listen to more of the rather unfortunate language that has been used by some SNP Members this afternoon.

This is not simply about a majority SNP Government pushing through what they want; it is about representing the people of Scotland. The SNP Government have to recognise that, although they won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, that does not mean that they can state categorically that there is a majority in Scotland in favour of independence.

Many people in my local area tell me that they voted SNP, which they of course had the right to do, but that they are concerned about the process of the referendum and want to be sure that it is fair and above board. They also tell me that they may not vote for independence because they are worried about the economic circumstances in Scotland and what might happen if Scotland were to separate from the rest of the UK. [Interruption.]

I hear chuntering, to use a word that was used earlier, from many of the SNP Members. I am happy to debate the positive arguments for Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom with the SNP in a proper context at any stage. However—and I hope that SNP Members and the Scottish Government take this on board—I find it difficult to take that anyone who is seen to disagree with independence finds themselves subjected to cyber-warfare through the Twitter feeds; or, if they

15 Jan 2013 : Column 829

work in the voluntary or charitable sector, finds that they receive a phone call; or, if they are a business, finds that they do not get invited to the same circle of events. This point is fundamental to the way in which the debate has to be taken forward. I respect the fact that many people believe in an independent Scotland. I disagree with that view and have come to that conclusion after a great deal of consideration throughout my political life, but I do not accept that people who have a different opinion should not be able to voice it for fear of being on the wrong side of the Scottish Government and having to suffer the consequences. I plead with those on the SNP Benches to do what they can to ensure that this debate is taken forward positively.

As I said earlier, it is important to meet what has been described as the “gold standard” in the wording of the question that is put to the Scottish people. I think that the Scottish people who are watching this debate want to know that every one of us is trying to do our best for the future of the country and our communities, and that we are not simply out to seek party political advantage. It is unfortunate that much of the debate has again focused on the misconceptions, misunderstandings, mis-speakings and lack of information—or sometimes the completely contradictory information—around the Scottish Government’s position, for example on the currency and on the EU. People are worried when the Scottish Government are unable to give a straight answer to a straight question. That is why I believe that we must have the Electoral Commission as the independent referee. We need it to ensure that the question is not only fair, but is seen to be fair.

As many Members have said, it is vital that the outcome is accepted. Many people who did not agree with the setting up of the Scottish Parliament expressed their view in the run-up to the referendum, but none the less accepted the outcome and tried to make it work, including many people who sat on the Benches opposite me in Holyrood. That spirit of the different political parties trying to make an institution work has perhaps been lost over the past few years. It would be regrettable if that continued throughout the debate over the referendum.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few points this afternoon on behalf of my constituents, who have concerns about the process and want to see that it is fair, and about the future of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament is a precious institution, for which many of us fought long and hard. We must not see it undermined in this process. We are giving it an important responsibility and I trust that my colleagues there will do their best to live up to the expectations. However, I want to hear from the SNP in particular that it is prepared to play fair and to ensure that there is a level playing field throughout the process.

6.19 pm

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I am very pleased, and do not in the least begrudge sitting for many hours, to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This is a truly momentous moment and I pay credit, as others have done, to those who have been involved in negotiations to get us to the point at which the House—I hope this evening—can sign off a section 30 order and we can move on to the next phase.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 830

It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) whose contribution had just the tone we want in this debate as we go forward. These issues are important to the Scottish people, and although there can be robust disagreement, they should always be considered in a tone of respect. I do not think there is anything worth while in life that justifies treating one’s fellow human beings badly.

That takes me neatly to the contribution from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Until then, the tone of the debate had been reasoned, restrained and respectful. His contribution, however, had a sour tone, and I do not even know whether he is aware of that. No other Member of his party consistently adopts such a tone in his contributions in the House and other places on the estate. I do not know whether his unpleasantness informs his politics, or his politics his unpleasantness, but he is rapidly becoming the Reverend I. M. Jolly of the SNP. It may surprise some people that we have managed to debate the section 30 order for so many hours, but so many elements of this issue are important. Significantly, we have spoken a lot today about the franchise. The hon. Gentleman thought that we were being downbeat and rubbishing it, and criticising or not trusting the Scottish Government, but it is not about that.

I know that this challenge will be difficult and that it will not be possible to meet the aspirations of everyone who wants, through this order, to vote in the referendum. It is, however, important that people who are Scottish, and feel they are Scottish, know that the Parliament in Holyrood has done everything it can to make this a showcase for the world and the fair, exemplary example of a referendum that we all want to see.

This referendum divides even my own family. My daughter lives in Scotland so that will be fine and she will have a vote, but I have three sons who were all born in England but consider themselves Scottish. One lives and works in Brussels and he will have a vote, but the ones in Gateshead and London will not. I do not know whether there is a solution, but we must at least acknowledge the issue. My sons still come home and often work in Scotland and this referendum will change their lives and that of my family for ever. Their not being able to vote would be a frustration and a disappointment and all we are doing today is urging the Scottish Parliament to do everything in its power to reach the aspirations of such people.

I welcome the inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds and would like them to be able to vote in every election in the United Kingdom. I am concerned, however, to ensure that all 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to vote and that no section is disfranchised. I remember the lessons of the poll tax. Some families were nervous about putting their young ones on to the electoral register because of that tax, and I wonder whether some parents—especially in poorer communities—might be nervous and concerned about the bedroom tax. This is not about talking down the SNP or the Scottish Parliament but about saying, “We are passing this over to you. Please make every effort to ensure that every 16 and 17-year-old has the chance to vote, and that we have the chance to engage with them throughout the debate.”

15 Jan 2013 : Column 831

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire spoke about the warm relationship that Scotland would continue to have with the rest of the United Kingdom, post the referendum and whatever the outcome, yet he mocked Conservative Members for daring to contribute to the debate. I just wanted to say that he does not speak for the people of Scotland. The majority of us realise that there are four nations that stand tall and proud to make up this family of nations, each with its own individual identity, like a tree in a forest, while under the surface our roots are entwined.

Anas Sarwar: Poetry!

Fiona O'Donnell: Poetry in motion. That is a strength and a relationship that I believe binds these nations together.

I also want to talk about the timing of the referendum. The order says that it can be any time before the end of next year, but no one seems to have mentioned the fact that we might not have a referendum. I do not think we should rule anything out when it comes to the Government in Holyrood. It may be that they find it inconvenient to have a referendum at this time and try to find a way out, but I hope we will see the process through, because it is time. I agree with the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) that it will not end there for the nationalists. They will not say, “Well, that’s it. It’s over—it never happened for Scotland”; it will carry on. However, it is different for those of us who believe in the family of nations. I do not think we will be calling for a referendum to take us back in five years’ time. That is perhaps the difference.

I do not exaggerate, but whatever happens, the next morning a sizeable section of the Scottish nation will be devastated by the result. We will have to pull ourselves together. That is why the conduct of the election and the process leading up to it, including the powers that this order transfers to the Scottish Parliament, are so important: so that people can see that the process is fair and transparent. We should have the involvement of the Electoral Commission as an independent body—of course we do not know what it will say: that is because it is independent. It is important that we should seek the advice of a body with such experience—and whose advice no Government here have ever rejected—so that we have a question that is fair and does not lead to or prompt a response from the Scottish people.

It is also important that, within the spending limits, the Scottish people should be allowed access to all the information they need to make a decision. I do not think it should surprise people that the SNP has called for the amount to be lower than what those of us in the Better Together campaign are calling for. Indeed, the boundaries between the Scottish Government and the yes campaign are being blurred day by day. Last night we heard Blair Jenkins, the leader of the yes campaign—the chief executive—announcing that the Scottish Government would be making various announcements in the lead-up to the White Paper. Why did that come from someone in the yes campaign? That was an announcement for the Scottish Government. There is blurring and, at times, misuse, and we need to be vigilant about that.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 832

Mr MacNeil: Whether or not Blair Jenkins said that last night, it has been known about for ages. It was hardly an announcement coming uniquely from Blair Jenkins. If I tell the hon. Lady that the Scottish Government will have 15 papers before the end of the year, is that an announcement from the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar? I am just saying it.

Fiona O'Donnell: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is a man—not him, but Blair Jenkins—who kept saying, “Oh, I’m not a politician,” but then he turns up on politics programmes and makes highly political comments. Let us not kid ourselves for one moment that this is someone who is independent or separate from the SNP.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) should not feel bad that he seems to have a problem in his relationship with the SNP. Let us remember that in the yes campaign there has already been a trial separation between the SNP and the Scottish Greens. As I recall, there are only two of them in the Scottish Parliament, so the problem is less his and more that of the Scottish nationalists. It is about the way they do their politics.

Let me draw my comments to a conclusion. We have had a good debate today. It has set the agenda; or rather, it did not “set the agenda”—that would be arrogant —but made some helpful suggestions to the Scottish Parliament about how the debate should be conducted. Although I very much hope that the outcome will be the right one, I also hope that we have a debate and a campaign that do not divide Scotland and Britain, because that would be in no one’s interests.

6.29 pm

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): The spirit of consensus has been a key characteristic of today’s debate on the passing of this order. We support the order, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) has already said, and we support the fact that the Scottish people should be in the driving seat and making the decision. However, a huge of amount of debate needs to take place before the people of Scotland make the biggest decision on the constitutional future of our country since 1707. I pay thanks to the many groups and organisations that provide us with a number of briefings, such as the Law Society of Scotland.

We have heard interesting and stunning contributions from Labour Members: my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) and for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell). I will take some of the issues they have raised today and explore them a little further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West spoke in support of his own Scottish Affairs Committee report and argued for the need for losers’ consent in this process—an important point to make.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 833

He also argued that it is the responsibility of the losers to accept the result for a generation or more, as has been stated by the First Minister in the past. My hon. Friend brought to the debate the question of whether the SNP can be both player and referee, and spoke of the need for the Electoral Commission to be the only referee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central spoke about keeping his country together and about a fight. I tell him this: it will be a fight, but I will be standing shoulder to shoulder with him. Rightly, he stated that a yes vote in 2014 will last forever. He also highlighted that 45% of SNP voters do not support independence and that often the SNP’s actions do not match its rhetoric.

My neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, exposed the antics of the SNP and spoke of the need to carry the referendum debate forward positively on all sides—such comments have been made by many hon. Members, but have not always been delivered by the words that followed. My right hon. Friend made the important point that, by our actions today, a great responsibility has now been placed on the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South spoke about how it was Scottish Labour that delivered devolution and improved it. He expressed concern over the SNP’s control of the Scottish Parliament, and its singular function in and out of Holyrood to deliver independence rather than to address issues, such as food bank queues in his constituency. He also asked whether we can trust the First Minister and said that the jury was out on the SNP Government’s ability to be fair—a view that I think is possibly shared by many Labour Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith highlighted the concern that it will be damaging for Scotland if the days following the referendum are filled with rancour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West said—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith alluded to the same fact—the losers need to accept the outcome of the referendum. He also called for the Electoral Commission to take the role of the referee in this process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston reminded us that the Scottish constitutional future is really all about the future of the Scottish people. He was unconvinced that the nationalist majority in Holyrood would not be used to act in a partisan way. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow sought assurances on the role of the top civil servant in this process in Scotland and how the civil service must not be silenced for doing its job. I will come back to that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun called for a reasonable and respectful debate, and respect for the Electoral Commission’s role—a strand running through many contributions from Labour Members. She also referred to the lack of support for the commission coming from the SNP. The burden being passed to Holyrood is great. Our devolved Parliament must prepare a Bill that presents the people of Scotland with a clear choice: whether or not to separate from the rest of the UK. There can be no fudged question with undue bias. In the light of that, it is paramount that the

15 Jan 2013 : Column 834

Scottish Government pay heed to the commission’s recommendation. That argument has been well made by my hon. Friends.

I want to pick up some more points made during the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West expanded on the need for a fair question and the fact that the Scottish Government must accept the commission’s view. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West again talked about the weasel words from the SNP over its biased question and how it had no reason not to accept the commission’s view. He also confirmed that no self-respecting polling organisation would ask such a question—no surprise there. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central said that voters must have a clear question, that the commission should decide on the question and that it should not be for politicians to decide. We should respect the role and independence of the commission. That way, the question will be seen as fair.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gordon Banks: If the hon. Gentleman can control his E numbers and sit down, he will have plenty of opportunity to get in later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South expressed concern about attempts to sideline the commission on the issue of the question and challenged the SNP to accept the commission’s advice, but there were no takers at that point in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston also called for a question that was approved by the commission.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gordon Banks: The hon. Gentleman will have a contribution to make later, I am quite sure.

The commission is extremely well respected, and no Government or Assembly within the UK have ever failed to reach agreement with it on such issues. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) is wrong. The Deputy First Minister claims to hold the commission in high esteem. Why, then, can she not give an unequivocal assurance that the Scottish Government will implement its recommendations? Particularly given that the Scottish Government are, for the first time in the history of the Scottish Parliament, governing with a working majority, it is appropriate that extra care be taken to ensure that the process is open and transparent.

The order states that the referendum must be held before the end of 2014. The Opposition, as well as our colleagues in Holyrood, had hoped that the Scottish Government would bring forward that date in order to end the uncertainty over Scotland’s constitutional future. Frankly, we could be forgiven for thinking that after 80 years the SNP would be ready to put this to the ultimate test—the test of the Scottish people. It is surprising that it is so reticent. Without doubt, it would be in Scotland’s best interests to have this decision made as soon as possible, but the Scottish Government appear prepared to take it to the wire. It is therefore essential that in that time we show the benefits of remaining in the most successful political and economic union the world has ever seen.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 835

Funding is another issue that has been addressed in the debate. My hon. Friends have made valid contributions on this issue, and I want to pick up on them now. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East raised the issue of a 1p spend for each voter in Scotland—and you know what you get when you spend a penny! My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West, however, said that to secure a respectable turnout and a clear decision we need to spend money. That was further amplified when he advised us of the turnouts in Quebec in 1980 of 85%, and in 1995 of 93.5%. He also spoke about the importance of the commission playing a continuing role, but he expressed his doubts about how the permanent secretary in Holyrood might be restricted in ensuring that the Scottish Government, in the regulated period, play a neutral role. We all share his concern.

It is crucial that both sides of the argument are able to fund their campaigns effectively, but it should be clear that funding should not be rigged to benefit one side to the detriment of the other. To have a referendum on the future of Scotland within the UK, but with businesses and unions limited in their ability to campaign by imposing lower spending limits than the Electoral Commission recommended, and to have a referendum on the future of Scotland within the UK but with far lower spending limits for the umbrella campaign groups than was recommended by the Electoral Commission and that were in place for the Welsh referendum and the AV referendum: these will both be seen for what they are. In short, to have the Scottish Government as a referee and player will in itself be seen for what it is.

Labour Members feel that the Electoral Commission is the most appropriate body to deal with these arrangements, and we are happy to be bound by its proposals. It is the body best placed to offer independent advice on such matters. We heard a contribution from my parliamentary neighbour the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in answer to a question about whether the Scottish Government would accept the Electoral Commission’s advice. His answer was, “Yes, yes, probably.” I am prepared to sit down to allow him to intervene to take away the “probably” and leave the “yes, yes”. No takers? There’s a surprise.

The Scottish Parliament is now ingrained within Scottish culture, and it has matured as a legislature. I believe that it is the feeling of this House that it is not for the Scottish Government in isolation to decide how to present the referendum to the people of Scotland. The Government must recognise that the people of Scotland deserve nothing less from their Government than an open, balanced and transparent referendum process. From this day forward, it will be unacceptable to the people of Scotland if the SNP uses its majority status in Holyrood to railroad through unfair outcomes on the question, funding and overseas donations. Indeed, on this matter, the First Minister could do worse than take the sound advice in last week’s report of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

There is so much more to discuss, including the day, the extended length of the regulated period and the extension of the tariff to 16 to 18-year-olds. Let me say a word or two on this final matter before I finish my remarks. If 16 to 18-year-olds are to be included in the franchise, it must be all 16 to 18-year-olds, as my

15 Jan 2013 : Column 836

hon. Friends have argued in the debate—not just the attainers, which would be an unacceptable cop-out. The impact of the shift from household to individual voter registration, which will be going on at the same time, should also be recognised. My point to the Scottish Government, then, is: “So do it, yes; but do it right.”

I visit schools in my constituency as often as I can. On Friday last week, I met a small group of sixth-form pupils in Alva academy. When I raised the issue of 16 to 18-year-olds voting, the merits of the idea were discussed. I was heartened to be told by one pupil that she was desperate to get the chance to vote: she wanted to vote, she was committed to vote, and she could not wait to go into the ballot box to show her support for Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

It is essential that Scotland’s future is decided by the Scottish people through a referendum made in Scotland. The future of Scotland is too important for any party to play games with, and I hope the Scottish Government will listen to this debate and understand that they must put any thoughts of their own individual ambitions aside and do what is best for the Scottish people.

This must be a fair, legal and decisive referendum, and for this to take place the Scottish Government must accept the findings of the Electoral Commission. The burden of responsibility that has been placed on the Scottish Government is, as I have already said, great. They must show respect to the Scottish people, do right by the Scottish people and put any desire to create the rules for their own advantage to one side. To do anything less will damage Scotland and the Scottish Parliament’s international standing, which would be intolerable.

The eyes of the world are watching Scotland and we have a right to expect the Scottish Government to act in the best interests of Scotland in providing a fair and transparent referendum process. The First Minister can do this, or his Westminster colleagues can do it here today. It is simple: agree to accept the proposals of the independent electoral expert in the UK—the Electoral Commission. This is the standard that I believe the people of Scotland have set for the Scottish Government, and they cannot be allowed to fall short of it.

6.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): We have had a full and wide-ranging debate. I never doubted that we could fill six and a half hours with contributions from across the Chamber, representing parties across the political spectrum and, importantly, constituencies across the United Kingdom.

At Scotland Office questions, I said that I am never surprised by the actions of the Scottish National party, but I must admit that I was surprised that SNP Members left their Benches empty for a significant part of today’s debate, and did not listen to the contributions and views of others, even if they did not agree with them. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) started the debate well for the SNP with what could almost be described as a statesmanlike contribution. However, the SNP must recognise that the tone and behaviour of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and the somewhat erratic behaviour of the Member representing the Western Isles lead people to have concerns about how the SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament will take the matter forward.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 837

The order that we are debating today is of the utmost constitutional significance. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) set exactly the right tone in his contribution on the context of the debate and the political history of Scotland that has led us to this point. The order paves the way for a legal, fair and decisive referendum that will determine Scotland’s future: whether we will be a Scotland that affirms its commitment to this, our United Kingdom, or whether we will be a Scotland that chooses to leave the greatest political, economic and social union that has ever existed. I make no apology for putting my point of view strongly and passionately in this debate, and it is clear that others will also do so. Although we are discussing process today—the legal mechanism to provide the Scottish Parliament with the power to bring forward a referendum Bill—that process will result in the most important decision that people in Scotland will ever be asked to take. Separation will not be for Christmas 2014, but for ever. That is why the process has been debated so comprehensively, not just in this House but between the Governments in the run-up to the Edinburgh agreement, and will continue to be debated by parties in the Scottish Parliament.

To answer an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and to refute directly some of the comments of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, Members of this Parliament will still have a role in that debate and will be entitled to contribute to it. The issues can still be debated in this House of Commons and the other place. Our electorate in Scotland would expect nothing else.

The order ensures that the referendum will be legal, and that is why we are delivering the section 30 order. I am pleased that the Scottish Government now recognise the importance of doing that. The referendum must be fair—and it must be seen to be fair, as many Members have said. At the end of the process, no side can be allowed to cry foul—a point that the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) made in his usual colourful way. The debate must be conducted on a basis of well established principles, which have applied to referendums held across the United Kingdom, by successive UK Governments, and which both the Scottish Government and the UK Government put their names to when they signed the Edinburgh agreement last October. The process must produce a decisive result.

Businesses up and down Scotland tell me that they want to get the issue resolved once and for all. They want to get on with concentrating on rebuilding Scotland's economy, to focus on jobs, housing, and people’s real concerns. The Government want that too, but we accept that following the May 2011 election for the Scottish Parliament, the question of independence cannot be ignored. We must address the issue, and we must answer the question: do we want to stay in the United Kingdom or do we want to leave it for ever?

The order will ensure that the referendum can take place. As the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, it will ensure that the referendum contains a single question about independence, and that there will be no second question or second referendum to cloud the issue or prevent a clear result. It will ensure that the referendum can be held no later than the end of 2014, and it will ensure that important aspects of normal

15 Jan 2013 : Column 838

referendum law that would otherwise be outside the Scottish Parliament’s competence can be included in the referendum Bill, such as the rules governing campaign broadcasts and mail shots. It will also make the Scottish Government and Parliament responsible for setting the detailed rules and regulations governing the referendum. That is an important responsibility, and, as more than one Member has observed, one to which the world will pay close attention. The Deputy First Minister said that the highest international standards would apply to the referendum, and we shall all be holding her to account.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who has already played and, I believe, will continue to play an important and increasingly decisive role in the forthcoming campaign, pointed out that the Scottish Government would have to respond to the advice of the Electoral Commission on the wording of the question and the setting of the various spending limits for the referendum campaign. I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s rationale for the spending limits that they have devised. Apart from the argument that people do not like money to be spent during elections, I have heard no rationale that challenges the established limits set by the Electoral Commission. It is important that we, and all who will participate in the referendum, understand the reasons for the proposed financial limits.

If the Scottish Government choose not to accept the Electoral Commission’s advice, they will have to justify their decision. As a number of Members have pointed out, the UK Government’s position is clear: they have never failed to accept Electoral Commission advice on a referendum question. The Scottish Government will also have to specify the franchise for the referendum, and if they choose to extend it to 16 and 17-year-olds, they will have to answer the important questions about data protection and access to the register for information relating to minors to which my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) referred. In turn, it will be for the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s legislation. It will have to examine all the proposals carefully.

Members have expressed concern about the current operation of the Scottish Parliament. Like the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), I was once a Member of the Scottish Parliament. At that time, when Labour was in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and had a majority in the Parliament, it was always members of the Scottish National party who feared that their views might not be given due weight because there was a majority Government. I expect them to behave now as they behaved then in speaking up for minority views and ensuring that they are heard in the Scottish Parliament. I want them to make us confident that the Bill will be debated in a way that takes account of the views of all the people of Scotland. However, I myself am confident that my colleagues, Opposition Members and our Liberal Democrat coalition partners will be able to hold the SNP Government to account as the Bill is debated, in order to ensure that the referendum is legal, fair and decisive.

The memorandum of agreement signed by the Prime Minister, the First Minister, the Secretary of State and the Deputy First Minister on 15 October was an important first step. That was an important moment not just

15 Jan 2013 : Column 839

because of the agreement that had been reached, but because of the very public commitment given by Scotland’s two Governments to ensure that the referendum would meet the very highest standards, and that party politics and passions on both sides of the debate would not intervene in the establishment of a legitimate and fair process. It will be for both sides to stand by and live up to the agreement, and the UK Government give that commitment unreservedly.

There are clearly strong feelings in the House about 16 and 17-year-olds having a vote. As has been said, there will be a debate in Backbench Business Committee time next week, when Members will be able to discuss the topic in more depth. I believe any decision by the Scottish Government to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote will not achieve a partisan objective, as I am confident that when the votes are counted we will see that support for remaining an integral part of our United Kingdom comes from young and old alike.

Fiona O'Donnell: Does the Minister share my pleasure in the latest poll result, which included 16 and 17-year-olds and showed that the Better Together campaign currently has a 20-point lead?

David Mundell: I was very pleased to see that, but I am not complacent and all of us who support Scotland’s remaining part of the United Kingdom must get out and about in Scotland, under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West, and make sure we get our message to all parts of Scotland.

The hon. Lady made a point about 16 and 17-year-old sons and daughters of servicemen. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) and others stressed the need to allow our servicemen and women and their partners to vote, and there are procedures in place for that, but there are no procedures for their 16 and 17-year-old children. The Scottish Government must address that matter.

There has been much consideration of the Electoral Commission, and all Members who spoke about it—apart, perhaps, from those on the Scottish National party Benches—made it clear that they would accept the views of the Electoral Commission, even if it did not adopt their party’s position on the referendum question and funding. We should all welcome the fact that under this agreement the Electoral Commission will play a role, because only a few months ago the Scottish Government did not wish the Electoral Commission to play any part in the referendum, and wished instead to set up their own electoral commission.

15 Jan 2013 : Column 840

To those who asked what would happen if the Scottish Government did not follow the advice of the Electoral Commission, I say this: the people of Scotland will not take kindly to being played for a fool. Public trust is a precious commodity and, as the First Minister discovered following his recent comments on the EU, it can be quickly lost. I say to Alex Salmond, “Ignore the advice of the Electoral Commission at your peril.”

We have not heard about process alone in this debate. We have also heard about why this order matters. It matters because people want to get on with the real debate. Not only politicians, but ordinary people in Scotland, and each and every one of us who will be asked to cast a vote, want to hear about the real issues.

It is perfectly legitimate for the UK Government to set out Scotland’s current position within our United Kingdom in a series of papers, which we will do this year. The hon. Member representing the Western Isles tells us we will have 15 papers from the Scottish Government. We look forward to that, but I hope they shed more light than anything we have heard from them so far.

The agreement reached between the UK and Scottish Governments will ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence can take place. The section 30 order we have debated today ensures that there will be a single-question referendum on independence before the end of 2014. The memorandum of understanding ensures that the referendum will be based on the principles set out for referendums held across the UK. Together, the order and the memorandum mean that we can have a referendum that is legal, fair and decisive. I believe we are better together in the United Kingdom than we would ever be apart, and I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 22 October 2012, be approved.