Scotland Supreme Court rules: Country cannot hold independence referendum without London deal

“The Court unanimously concluded that the bill (for a referendum, editor’s note) falls within the matters reserved” to the central power in London, explained the president of the Supreme Court Robert Reed. In fact, “the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for an independence referendum”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “disappointed” by the Court’s ruling, saying that “a law which does not allow Scotland to choose its own future without Westminster’s agreement shows that any notion of voluntary partnership with the UK is a myth”.

A refusal in 2014

The Scots have already refused to 55% in 2014 to leave the United Kingdom. But in the eyes of the SNP separatists in power in Edinburgh, the Brexit that has since taken place, which 62% of voters in the province opposed, is a game-changer. They want Scotland to rejoin the European Union as an independent state.

But the central government in London strongly opposes any further independence referendums and sees the 2014 vote as closing the debate for a generation.

Anticipating a legal tussle with the government in London, Nicola Sturgeon had taken the lead in seizing the Supreme Court to position itself on the question which divides the Scots according to the polls.

The Court considered that such a referendum – even consultative – would have direct consequences on the union of the United Kingdom, an area “reserved” to the central government in London which must therefore give its agreement before such a vote is held. .

“Fundamental and inalienable right”

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Ms Sturgeon had warned that if she failed in court, she would make the UK’s next general election, due to be held by January 2025, a de facto referendum on the question of independence.

During the 2021 local elections, she had promised to organize a legally valid referendum once the page of the Covid-19 pandemic was turned.

She had already unveiled the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” “, and even the date, October 19, 2023, on which it intended to organize this new consultation.

At last month’s hearing at the Supreme Court, lawyers representing the London government argued that the Scottish government could not decide on its own whether to hold a referendum: Edinburgh must seek permission, as it is a matter reserved for the central government.

Opposite, the highest Scottish magistrate, Dorothy Bain, had argued that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right” while the independence party relied on the cases of Quebec or Kosovo.

Court dismissal

But the Supreme Court rejected such arguments on Wednesday, with Robert Reed saying that international law on self-determination only applied to former colonies or populations oppressed by military occupation, or when a group did not access to certain rights.

“I would have preferred another decision but it gives a clear answer and I think it is welcome,” Philippa Whitford, SNP MP, told AFP after the judgment.

“I think that while many supporters of the union may be rejoicing, they also need to realize that it raises questions about the nature of the UK. We are constantly told that this is a voluntary union and so they need to think about the democratic right that Scots have to choose their own future.”

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