UK’s top court rejects Scotland’s independence referendum bid

The Supreme Court says the Scottish government cannot hold a second plebiscite next year without London’s approval.

A pro-Scottish independence campaigner poses with a Scottish flag outside the United Kingdom Supreme Court in a case to decide whether the Scottish government can hold a second referendum on independence next year without approval from the British parliament
A pro-Scottish independence campaigner poses with a Scottish flag outside the UK Supreme Court [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

The United Kingdom’s top court has ruled the Scottish government cannot hold a second referendum on independence next year without approval from the British parliament, dealing a blow to nationalists’ hopes of holding a vote in 2023.

In 2014, Scots rejected ending the more than 300-year-old union with England by 55 percent to 45 percent, but independence campaigners have argued the vote two years later for Britain to leave the European Union, which the majority of Scottish voters opposed, has materially changed the circumstances.

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), announced earlier this year that she intended to hold an advisory independence vote on October 19, 2023, but that it had to be lawful and internationally recognised.

However, the British government in London has said it would not grant permission for another plebiscite, saying it should be a once-in-a-generation event.

Polls suggest voters remain evenly split over whether or not they support independence and a vote would be too close to call.

The Scottish government’s most senior law officer had asked the UK Supreme Court whether the Scottish government could pass legislation paving the way for an advisory second referendum without the approval of the UK parliament.

The court ruled on Wednesday it could not.

“The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence,” said Robert Reed, the president of the UK Supreme Court.

Under the 1998 Scotland Act, which created the Scottish parliament and devolved some powers from Westminster, all matters relating to the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England are reserved for the UK parliament.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Sturgeon wrote on Twitter she was disappointed but that she would respect the court’s decision.

“A law that doesn’t allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership and makes case for Indy,” she said.

“Scottish democracy will not be denied. Today’s ruling blocks one route to Scotland’s voice being heard on independence – but in a democracy our voice cannot and will not be silenced.”

Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said that “this was an unanimous ruling and it came much faster within six weeks rather than the months that court had previously announced”.

He also said that “the president of supreme court, Lord Reed, explained that unanimously judges have decided that the proposed legislation from the Scottish parliament, calling another second referendum on independence, would touch on what they called reserved matters”.

“That includes things which affect the union, the United Kingdom’s existence,” he said. “The Scottish government had argued that if they had a referendum, it would be advisory and it wouldn’t have immediate effect on the existence of the UK, and therefore, it wouldn’t touch on those reserved matters. They have lost the argument conclusively.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies