Scottish independence: what happens next after UK rules don’t allow a second vote?

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot organize its own independence referendum.

The decision was unanimous on Wednesday. It confirmed that the Scottish Government did not have the legal authority to introduce legislation that would allow a new vote to be held without Westminster’s permission – something successive governments in London have rejected.

Despite Wednesday’s verdict, the issue of Scottish independence will not be resolved.

The number of Scots is split evenly between those who want to remain part of the UK and those who want Scotland to become an independent nation.

What happens next? Predicting the future in politics is notoriously difficult, but there are three main scenarios that could play out in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party bided its time

The SNP could wait until the next UK general election, scheduled for 2025, in hopes of gaining a larger majority, bolstering its pro-independence case.

“We want this to be beyond doubt,” he said Ruaridh Hannahan SNP activist.

“We have to convince more people [that] Independence is the best way forward,” he told Euronews.

If the SNP cast an even bigger vote in 2025, Hanna believes it would strengthen the case for a second referendum and put pressure on Westminster to allow one, both domestically and internationally.

While acknowledging it is too early to say, he hopes the “clear democratic deficit” the UK government has shown by not allowing the vote will bolster support for independence.

“A lot of people across Scotland who were previously on the fence are going to be listening to the evening news tonight and thinking, how is that right?

“This can’t be a voluntary association if there’s no way out,” he added, hinting that having Scotland “held hostage” inside the UK is becoming something “quite scary”.

Still, many have argued that this strategy could backfire.

If the SNP remains focused on getting a second referendum, which seems unlikely for now, there is a risk that Scots will become frustrated with a seemingly unnecessary distraction from other issues, especially amid a recession and cost-of-living crisis.

In a statement, the Scottish Conservatives urged the SNP to “drop their referendum obsession and focus on what really matters to the people of Scotland”.

“The country is currently facing enormous challenges,” said the party leader Douglas Ross. “Our economy and our NHS are in crisis.”

Also, there is every chance that the 2025 elections will not dramatically improve the SNP’s fortunes and prepare the party for a repeat of what happened before.

Carlo Bastawho co-directs Edinburgh University Center for Constitutional Amendmentsaid he was “skeptical” that support for independence would rise as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

“I don’t have a crystal ball…at the moment it’s open. But if I had to bet, I’d bet it’s not really going to change things that much,” he said. “But maybe I’m wrong.”

The Scottish National Party might as well park independence

A second plausible scenario is that the issue of independence from the SNP could be shelved, at least temporarily.

“Of course there is relatively high support for independence in the opinion polls,” Basta said, “but the longer this goes on without any tangible results, the greater the pressure on the SNP to do something else is likely to increase.”

He suggested that Scottish nationalists faced “very difficult choices”.

They may “walk away” from independence in the medium term – which he says is not “particularly attractive” for the party – or continue to engage in “political manoeuvres” that do not end in independence, which risks eroding support.

They could end up “parking independence and maybe moving on to deepening or expanding decentralization,” he said.

Again there are doubts that this will happen.

“As long as the SNP is a political party and Scotland remains in the Union, the SNP will fight for its independence,” Ruaridh Hanna said.

He continued: Independence “is clearly important to voters in Scotland…the SNP would be doing voters a disservice by ignoring the wishes of the people.”

The SNP has won eight consecutive elections since the first independence referendum in 2014. The party, together with the Scottish Greens, holds the largest independence majority ever in Holyrood.

However, given the current impasse, Hanna said the SNP must “consider other options.”

“In the new year there will be a conference with party members to see exactly how it works and what form it takes.”

“There are many questions that need to be resolved in the coming months,” he added. “We don’t have any answers at the moment”.

Carry on anyway

Some have argued that the SNP should conduct the referendum without Westminster’s approval.

In 2017, Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain, which the country’s government declared illegal. Pro-independence won by 90%, although many No voters failed to show up.

However, the SNP and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have repeatedly firmly ruled this out.

After the ruling, Sturgeon said her party will respect the Supreme Court’s decision.

“In securing Scotland’s independence, we will always be guided by a commitment to democracy and respect for the rule of law,” she said.

According to Basta, one reason for going legal is that the SNP wants “international recognition”.

“They are fully aware that if they tried to stage some kind of one-sided pursuit of independence, they would be perceived as irresponsible.”

“It would not be politically palatable,” he added.

Many international observers of the Catalan vote ruled that it was illegitimate because it had not been sanctioned by the central government and failed to meet certain voting standards.

Anyhow, Hanna said the verdict should be left for everyone to think about.

“For those who don’t live in Scotland, you should ask yourself what that means for democracy in general.”

“If the British government seriously embarks on the path of denying democracy within its own borders. What international implications does this have? Sets precedents for other countries,” he added.

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