In a speech to the SNP conference in Perth, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave the clearest indication yet that the Scottish Government is preparing to disregard impartial advice on campaign funding from the Electoral Commission. The neutral watchdog – handed a key role in setting referendum rules under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement last week – favours higher spending limits for the two main campaign groups than those proposed by ministers.The commission also wants higher spending caps for political parties under a formula which the SNP claims would put it at a £1 million disadvantage.
Closing the Nationalists’ conference yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said: “We will set the spending limits with care. We will listen to our consultation. We will listen to the Electoral Commission. We will listen to both campaign organisations. “And then we will take a decision that is right for Scotland, a decision that guarantees a level playing field and a fair contest.” To applause, she added: “Make no mistake, this time around Scotland’s future will not be bought and sold for anyone’s gold.”
The SNP Government has proposed the two main campaign organisations, Yes Scotland and Better Together, should be allowed to spend no more than £750,000 in the crucial last 16 weeks of the campaign. On top of that it also wants a spending limit of £250,000 for each political party represented at Holyrood during the so-called “regulated period” when strict rules apply.