UK Supreme Court rules on legality of Scottish independence referendum

London opposes this and considers that the 2014 vote closed the debate for a generation. Scottish separatists believe Brexit has been a game-changer.

Can Scotland hold another independence referendum without London’s agreement? The British Supreme Court will rule on Wednesday 23 November on this crucial question for the future of the United Kingdom.

The independence prime minister Nicola Sturgeon has already revealed the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, and even the date, October 19, 2023, on which it intends to organize this new consultation. Already 55% of Scots in 2014 refused to leave the UK. But in the eyes of the independentists of the ruling SNP in Edinburgh, the Brexit, which 62% of voters in the province opposed, has since intervened, 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 took the lead in taking the case to the Supreme Court to determine whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate on the issue without the agreement of the British government, on an issue on which the Scots are particularly divided according to the polls. The separatist leader believes that she has an “indisputable mandate” to organize such an election, in particular because of the majority that the SNP has in the local Parliament.

“A fundamental and inalienable right”

At last month’s hearing in the Supreme Court, lawyers representing the London government argued that the Scottish government cannot decide on its own whether to hold a referendum: Edinburgh must seek permission, as it is a a matter reserved for the central government. Opposite, Scotland’s highest magistrate, Dorothy Bain, argued that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right”.

In a recent blog post, Stephen Tierney, professor of constitutional law at the University of Edinburgh, opined that the “more likely” is that Britain’s highest court rules that a new vote be declared above the powers of local government. In such a scenario, Nicola Sturgeon has already warned that she would make the next general election in the UK, 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.

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