Vote on Scottish independence referendum blocked by UK Supreme Court


Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Government cannot unilaterally hold a second referendum on whether to secede from the UK, a blow to pro-independence campaigners welcomed by Westminster’s pro-union establishment.

The court unanimously rejected an attempt by the Scottish National Party (SNP) to force a vote next October as it did not have the consent of the British Parliament.

However, the decision is unlikely to stem the heated debate over independence that has loomed over British politics for the past decade.

Scotland last voted on the issue with Westminster’s approval in 2014, when voters rejected the prospect of independence by 55% to 45%.

However, the pro-independence SNP has dominated politics north of the border in recent years at the expense of traditional, pro-union groups. Successive SNP leaders have vowed to give Scottish voters another chance to vote, particularly since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

The latest push by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon involved an advisory referendum later next year, similar to the 2016 poll that led to Brexit. But the country’s top court agreed that even a non-binding vote would require Westminster oversight given its practical implications.

“A lawfully held referendum would have important political consequences in relation to the Union and the UK Parliament,” Lord Reed said as he read the court’s verdict.

“It would either strengthen or weaken the democratic legitimacy of the Union and the sovereignty of the UK Parliament over Scotland, whichever view prevails, and would either support or undermine the democratic credibility of the independence movement,” he said.

Sturgeon said she accepted the verdict on Wednesday but tried to frame the decision as another pillar in the secession case. “A law not allowing Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster’s consent debunks any notion of Britain as a voluntary partnership and pleads for independence,” she wrote on Twitter.

In a speech to reporters later on Wednesday, she accused the British government of “open denial of democracy”.

Sturgeon said her next step in her bid to get a vote would be to brand the next UK general election – scheduled for no later than January 2025 – as a proxy referendum in Scotland on the course to be taken.

But British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded the court’s “clear and final verdict” as an opportunity to move beyond the independence debate. “The people of Scotland want us to work to tackle the huge challenges we face together, be it the economy, supporting the NHS or supporting Ukraine,” he said in Parliament.

Opinion polls suggest that Scots remain narrowly divided on whether to break away from Britain, with no clear consensus yet to emerge either way.

England and Scotland have been linked in a political union since 1707, but many Scots have long balked at what they believe to be a one-sided relationship dominated by England. Scottish voters have a history of rejecting the ruling Conservative Party at the ballot box and voting strongly – but in vain – against Brexit, fueling disputes over the issue over the past decade.

Since 1999, Scotland has had decentralized government, meaning that many but not all decisions are taken in the Scottish Parliament, led by the SNP in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

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