The Scottish Government's Referendums (Scotland) Bill passed its final Holyrood stage yesterday, with MSPs divided over whether it is specifically directed to setting up a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Backed by the SNP and Greens but opposed by the other parties, the bill was passed by 68 votes to 54, with two Labour MSPs abstaining, after a series of partisan divisions in which the Government resisted a number of opposition amendments.
Ministers presented the bill as providing a legislative framework for the holding of all future referendums on devolved issues in Scotland. However Murdo Fraser for the Conservatives claimed it was "about just one issue: a future independence referendum". And speaking after the debate, Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell described the passing of the bill as "an important step forward in allowing Scotland to choose its own future".
Among its provisions the bill introduces tighter controls on social media campaigning, and bigger fines for those who break the rules. It will allow those aged 16 and over, as well as EU citizens, to vote.
Questions used in referendums will be tested by the Electoral Commission. They will be valid for one parliamentary term, with a provision to extend the time limit with the Scottish Parliament’s approval. The Parliament can also ask the Commission to review a question at any time.