UK High Court blocks second Scottish independence vote

The UK Supreme Court has voted unanimously that the Scottish parliament does not have the power to call a second independence referendum, overturning a plan by the Scottish National Party to impose one next year.

Scotland voted against breaking with the UK in a referendum in 2014. The Scottish National Party, which holds the majority in the Scottish parliament, has since pushed for another vote, arguing that breaking the Great Britain with the European Union had changed the economic landscape and that Scotland had better thrive on its own. Polls from last year show Scots are roughly evenly split on whether to end the union with Britain.

“The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence,” said Robert Reed, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon responded to the decision saying she respected the court’s ruling but would continue to push for independence.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the decision “final” and said the focus should be on solving Britain’s economic problems and “satisfying the people of Scotland”. Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday that the next UK general election, due in 2024, would be a de facto referendum on Scottish independence, saying that if a majority of Scottish voters supported her party in that vote, it would prove that Scotland should separate from Britain. .

“Let’s be frank: A so-called partnership in which one partner is denied the right to choose a different future – or even ask the question – can in no way be described as voluntary or even a partnership,” said Mrs. Sturgeon. “This decision therefore confirms that the notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership of nations is no longer, if it ever was, a reality.”

The UK government has urged Scottish politicians to move on and put pressure on other issues such as the cost of living crisis resulting from high inflation and weak economic growth.

Scotland was an independent country with its own parliament for centuries before uniting with England in 1707. Scotland got a new parliament in 1998 and has powers in areas like health and education . But most national issues such as overall economic policy and defense are governed by the UK parliament in London.

The Scottish parliament does not have the power to legislate on matters relating to the 315-year-old union between the rest of Britain and Scotland. Since the last referendum, the UK government has repeatedly refused to grant a so-called ‘Article 30’ order, which would give the Scottish parliament the power to hold such a vote. This left the SNP trying to induce Mr Sunak to call a plebiscite by arguing that the proposal enjoys popular support among Scots.

To force matters, the Scottish government filed a legal challenge declaring that it had the power to call a referendum, arguing that any vote would be purely advisory and therefore would have no direct effect on the state of the EU. union between England and Scotland. The Supreme Court rejected this argument but held that it could not express an opinion on the political question of whether Scotland should become independent.

A big question is how the next UK general election will play out, says John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. Labor is well ahead of the ruling Conservative Party in the polls, but it is unclear whether it will secure an outright majority. That could leave the SNP as the kingmaker, giving it leverage to demand another referendum as the price of supporting Labour. Labor has repeatedly denied that it would form a coalition with the SNP or call such a referendum.

Another issue is Brexit. In the 2014 Scottish referendum, citizens’ views on Europe were completely out of line with their support for the union. After Brexit, there is a strong correlation, with 65% of anti-Brexit Scots supporting Britain.

The question for the government is, “Do you really think it’s an effective political strategy to simply deny that you can hold a vote on this issue?” said Mr. Curtice. “You also have to move the dial: the question is, what are the trade unionists going to do to move the dial north of the border? »

Much depends on the ability of the Conservative government to show that Brexit is a success, he added.

Write to Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com

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