UK top court rules against Scottish independence vote plan
London: Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that Scotland’s government cannot hold a second referendum on its union with the United Kingdom without the approval of the UK Parliament, in a major blow to Scottish independence campaigners.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Parliament soon after that it was a “clear and definitive” ruling as he called on all parts of the UK to work together as a “collaborative and constructive” union.
“We respect the clear and definitive ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom,” Sunak told the House of Commons when asked about the issue.
“I think that the people of Scotland want us to be working on fixing the major challenges that we collectively face, whether that is the economy, supporting the NHS or indeed supporting Ukraine. Now is the time for politicians to work together and that is what this government will do,” he said.
The devolved Scottish National Party (SNP) led government at Edinburgh had taken the issue of so-called “Indyref2” to the courts and will be addressing several rallies across Scotland following the top court’s ruling.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had proposed Indyref2 on October 19 next year, which would mark the second such referendum since September 2014 when just over 55 per cent voted to remain part of the UK. SNP has been demanding a second say on Scotland’s independence since the rest of the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) in 2016 and the region voted to remain within the economic bloc.
“A lawfully held referendum would have important political consequences relating to the union and the United Kingdom Parliament,” said Lord Robert Reed, Supreme Court President, as he read out the unanimous ruling.
“It would either strengthen or weaken the democratic legitimacy of the Union and of the United Kingdom Parliament’s sovereignty over Scotland, depending on which view prevailed, and would either support or undermine the democratic credentials of the independence movement.
“It is therefore clear that the proposed bill has more than a loose or consequential connection with the reserved matters of the Union of Scotland and England, and the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament,” he said.
Reed also said the panel of top court judges did not accept the SNP’s argument about the “right to self-determination” in international law.
Sturgeon had already said the SNP would use the next general election as an informal referendum if the court ruled against the bill. Tweeting after the ruling was made, the First Minister said while she was “disappointed”, she respected the ruling, adding the Supreme Court “doesn’t make law, only interprets it”.
“A law that doesn’t allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership and makes [the] case for independence,” said Sturgeon.
“Scottish democracy will not be denied. Today’s ruling blocks one route to Scotland’s voice being heard on independence – but in a democracy our voice cannot and will not be silenced,” she said.
The Opposition parties in the region spoke out against another referendum and claimed the question was now settled.
“The SNP must now get back to work, drop their referendum obsession and focus on what really matters to the people of Scotland,” said Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross.
“There is not a majority in Scotland for a referendum or independence, neither is there a majority for the status quo. One thing is clear – there is a majority in Scotland and across the UK for change. A Labour government will deliver that change,” said Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
The pro-independence SNP, which has led Scotland since 2007, insists it has a mandate to hold a fresh vote because of its continued success in elections and because of the change in circumstances since Brexit.
Sturgeon began her attempts to get approval for a new referendum in 2017 by asking then Prime Minister Theresa May for a Section 30 order, which is used to increase or restrict, permanently or temporarily, the Scottish Parliament’s legislative authority and was used to temporarily legislate for the first referendum under then PM David Cameron.
Following repeated refusals by UK Prime Ministers, the issue was taken to the courts as the SNP demanded the right to hold indyref2.