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Leave no referendum spending loopholes, MSPs urged

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Campaign spending rules must be far tougher than for the Brexit referendum, political scientist Professor Justin Fisher told MSPs this morning.

Professor Fisher was among academics guiding the Scottish Government on fresh legislation that could pave the way for a new Scottish independence referendum.

Taking lessons from the UK’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, he joined Dr Alan Renwick from University College London to advise on fair play.

If there are loopholes on campaign spending limits there to be exploited, they will be, the Brunel University London Prof told The Finance and Constitution Committee.

“Rules on spending limits are not fit for purpose and create potential for significant inequality in referendum campaigns,” he urged the committee’s first Referendums (Scotland) Bill debate, which covers any referendums in Scotland.

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The Scottish government is thrashing out plans to stage a new independence referendum next year and wants expert advice on framework, conduct and campaign rules. But the ‘Indyref2’ Bill sets no date or question and ministers need the UK Government’s go-ahead. PM Boris Johnson has said he sees ‘no reason’ for a second vote on Scottish independence.

Scotland voted against independence in 2014, but in the Brexit referendum two years later Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. While the Referendums Bill was first tabled this spring, with the UK Parliament now in turmoil, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon wants to put Scottish Independence at the heart of any election debate.

The lessons from the 2016 Brexit referendum, Professor Fisher highlighted, are that it’s important preparations are over a longer period of time and that governments should not be left to decide how the question is put.

Calling for tighter spending limits, he also warned about over-regulation, suggesting that having to declare very small amounts may drive people out of politics.

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Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
hayley.jarvis@brunel.ac.uk