THE process of retesting the question for a second independence referendum has begun, with a ruling expected in around three months.
The Electoral Commission has confirmed it is now considering the issue after a request from the Scottish Government last week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced earlier this month she would ask for a retesting of the question used in 2014 as a first step in building and winning the case for independence.
Six years ago voters were asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
However, a row broke out last year over the issue of whether that question should be retested by the electoral watchdog.
Scottish Government ministers wanted to keep the same format, arguing that any change would be confusing for voters and would “muddy the waters”.
Some opposition politicians called for a Leave/Remain option to be put to voters instead – echoing the language used in the Brexit referendum.
Announcing the request would be made to retest it, Sturgeon said the question was “simple, intelligible and well-recognized across the country.”
But she added: “Parliament made clear it wanted it retested and it is the next practical step we need to take within our powers to prepare for a referendum.” The board of the Electoral Commission will consider the request from the Scottish Government within the next few weeks, before deciding its approach on assessing how understandable the question is for voters.
This is expected to include carrying out research with the public and getting feedback from political parties and campaign groups.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “Electoral law enables governments to request the Commission’s expert advice and assistance, to inform their decision making in the best interests of voters.
“We have received a request from the Scottish Government to retest the question used in the 2014 independence referendum and are currently considering it.”
The Scottish Government’s Referendums Bill, which was passed last year and sets the rules for a future independence referendum, said all questions must be tested in advance for fairness and intelligibility by the Electoral Commission.
However, it provoked controversy with the inclusion of an exemption for questions which have been previously approved by the Commission, such as that used in 2014.
Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell tabled amendments which were subsequently voted through, which means the test of the questions will be valid for one parliamentary term, with a provision to extend the time limit with the Scottish Parliament’s approval.
In addition, Parliament can ask the Commission to review a question at any time.
This means the Yes/No question of 2014 could have been reused this year without the Commission testing it, but only with the approval of Parliament.
Last year a poll found a majority of Scots – 77% – would be satisfied if the 2014 question was used again.
According to the survey by Progress Scotland, some 88% thought the question was clear and easy and 82% thought it was fair.