UK Supreme Court examines legal basis for new Scottish independence vote

UK Supreme Court examines legal basis for new Scottish independence vote


The UK Supreme Court on Tuesday will examine the legality of Scotland’s effort to hold a new independence referendum in London next year without government approval.

Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s nationalist government in Edinburgh wants a new vote on “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Speaking at her Scottish National Party’s annual conference on Monday, she said the hearing would not have been necessary if the UK government in Westminster had respected Scottish democracy.

“But Westminster has no such respect. That means this matter was always destined to end up in court sooner or later — better that sooner, I think,” she said.

“If the court decides as we hope, there will be an independence referendum on October 19 next year.”

The Supreme Court hearings – initiated by Scotland’s leading legal adviser – will see senior lawyers squabbling over the powers of the decentralized Parliament in Edinburgh and Westminster.

The SNP campaigned in the 2021 Scottish general election on promises to hold a legal referendum once the Covid crisis subsided.

It now wants to go ahead, but the UK government, which must agree under the Scotland Act 1998, hasn’t given it the go-ahead.

In a TV interview this month, Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, reiterated her view that the last referendum in 2014 was a once-in-a-generation event.

“It is very clear to me that there should not be another referendum until this generation is over,” she added.

– ‘Never give up’ –

Opinion polls now show that Scottish voters are almost evenly divided on the issue of independence.

In the last referendum in 2014, 55 percent of Scots voted “no” to secession.

But that was ahead of Brexit, which most in Scotland voted against, and the general election, which saw a majority of pro-independence lawmakers elected for the first time.

The Scottish government wants to be able to create its own legal framework for further voting and argues that the “right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right”.

But the UK government argues that Scotland cannot act unilaterally on a “low-key” matter affecting the constitutional make-up of the UK as a whole, where the government in London calls the shots.

To get around this, the SNP-led government wants to hold an “advisory referendum” to test support without immediate change.

The Supreme Court deals with cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the entire population and decides on legal issues.

Five justices, including Supreme Court President Robert Reed, will begin two-day hearings at 10:30 a.m. (09:30 GMT) on Tuesday.

They will examine the legal validity of a referendum bill proposed by the SNP that would set a referendum date for October 19, 2023, with a ruling at a later date.

“The court is unlikely to rule in favor of the SNP – but pro-unionists should not see this as a decisive victory,” wrote Akash Paun of the think-tank Institute for Government.

If defeated in court, the party plans to make the next general election, due no later than January 2025, a de facto single-issue referendum.

Sturgeon said on Monday a legal defeat would leave the Scottish Government “with a very simple choice: take our case for independence to the people in an election or abandon Scottish democracy”.

“I will never give up Scottish democracy,” she added.

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