UK’s Supreme Court to hear Scottish independence case in October

The court will decide whether Scotland can hold a second referendum next year without Westminster’s approval.

A demonstrator holds a flag during a pro-Scottish Independence rally in Glasgow.
A demonstrator holds a flag during a pro-Scottish independence rally in Glasgow [File: Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court has said it will hear a legal case in October to establish whether the Scottish government can hold an independence referendum without consent from the government in London.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seeking to hold a new vote next year, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declined to allow one.

The Supreme Court said it had set October 11 and 12 as provisional dates for the hearing after Sturgeon instructed Scotland’s top law officer to make a referral on the legality of a new referendum.

The case will be heard almost a year before Sturgeon aims to hold the vote, which according to a bill published by the government should take place on October 19, 2023.

Scottish voters rejected independence in a referendum in 2014, with 55 percent voting against the proposal and 45 percent voting in favour.

The British government maintains the matter was settled then. Johnson, who quit as Conservative leader earlier this month, repeatedly said that an independence referendum should be a “once-in-a-generation” vote.

In a letter to Sturgeon on Wednesday, he reiterated his government‘s stance, saying the UK had more pressing issues to solve.

“As our country faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, I cannot agree that now is a time to revisit a question, which was clearly answered by the people of Scotland in 2014,” wrote Johnson, whose successor will be chosen in September.

Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) has argued that Britain’s departure from the European Union, which was opposed by a majority of Scots, means the question must be put to a second vote.

Pro-independence parties won a majority in Scotland’s parliamentary elections last year, which Sturgeon says gives the Scottish government a mandate to hold a new independence vote.

“Scottish democracy will not be a prisoner of this or any” prime minister, Sturgeon said.

“Scotland will have the opportunity to choose independence, either through a referendum in 2023 or a general election,” she added.

On June 28, Sturgeon announced that she had asked lord advocate Dorothy Bain to refer draft legislation to the Supreme Court to establish if it was within her government’s authority to hold such a vote without London’s approval.

Should the court rule against a referendum, the SNP would treat the next UK general election expected in 2024 as a “de facto” referendum and stand on the single issue of whether Scotland should become an independent country.

Polling service Savanta ComRes found last month that voters remained divided over the issue of independence, with those against breaking away from the UK having “the narrowest of leads” over those in favour.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies