Scotland cannot hold independence referendum without London deal, says Supreme Court

For the judges, such a vote would have consequences for the union of the United Kingdom and requires an agreement from the central power. The Scottish First Minister reiterated that the next election will be a “de facto” referendum.

The British Supreme Court ruled unsurprisingly on Wednesday November 23 that Scotland could not organize a new independence referendum without the London agreement, dampening the hopes of the Scottish government which wanted to hold such a consultation next year.

The Court unanimously concluded that the bill (for a referendum, editor’s note) falls within the reserved questionsto central power in London, said Chief Justice Robert Reed. Fact, “the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for an independence referendum“.

The Scottish people must ‘express their will’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said to herself “disappointed” by the judgment of the Court, considering that a “law that does not allow Scotland to choose its own future without Westminster’s agreement shows that any notion of a voluntary partnership with the UK is a myth“. “We must and we will find other democratic, legal and constitutional means for the people of Scotland to express their will. From my point of view, this can only be an election“, she said at a press conference in Edinburgh.

Already 55% of Scots in 2014 refused to leave the UK. But in the eyes of the SNP separatists in power in Edinburgh, the Brexit that has since taken place, which 62% of voters in the province opposed, is a game-changer. They want Scotland to rejoin the European Union as an independent state. But the central government in London strongly opposes any further independence referendums and sees the 2014 vote as closing the debate for a generation.

Anticipating a legal showdown with the government in London, Nicola Sturgeon had taken the lead in seizing the Supreme Court to position itself on the question which divides the Scots according to the polls.

The Court considered that such a referendum – even consultative – would have direct consequences on the union of the United Kingdom, an area “Reserveto the central government in London, which must therefore give its consent before such a vote is held.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Nicola Sturgeon had warned that if she failed in court, she would make the UK’s next general election, due to be held by January 2025, a de facto referendum on the question of independence.

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During the 2021 local elections, she had promised to organize a legally valid referendum once the page of the Covid-19 pandemic was turned. She had already unveiled the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?“, and even the date, October 19, 2023, on which it intended to organize this new consultation.

At last month’s hearing at the Supreme Court, lawyers representing the London government argued that the Scottish government could not decide on its own whether to hold a referendum: Edinburgh must seek permission because it is a a matter reserved for the central government.

“Fundamental and inalienable right”

Opposite, Scotland’s highest magistrate, Dorothy Bain, argued that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable rightwhile the independence party relied on the cases of Quebec or Kosovo. But the Supreme Court rejected such arguments on Wednesday, with Robert Reed saying that international law on self-determination only applied to former colonies or populations oppressed by military occupation, or when a group did not access to certain rights. “I would have preferred another decision but it gives a clear answer and I think it is welcome“, told AFP at the end of the judgment Philippa Whitford, MP SNP.

I think that while many supporters of the union may rejoice, they must also realize that it raises questions about the nature of the United Kingdom. We are constantly told that this is a voluntary union and so they need to reflect on the democratic right that Scots have to choose their own future“.


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