Britain’s Supreme Court is due to rule on Wednesday on whether Scotland could hold an independence vote without the UK government’s consent, a case with huge implications for the future of the UK.
The semi-autonomous Scottish government has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate to hold a referendum next October with the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Britain’s Conservative government in London is refusing to endorse a vote, saying the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum that saw Scottish voters reject independence by a margin of 55% to 45%.
Edinburgh’s independence government wants to reverse the decision, however, arguing that Britain’s departure from the European Union – which a majority of Scottish voters opposed – has radically changed the political and economic landscape.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argues she has a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland to stage a new secession vote because there is a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.
At Supreme Court hearings last month, Dorothy Bain, the Scottish government’s top legal adviser, said the majority of Scottish lawmakers were elected on a pledge to hold a new independence referendum. She also said a referendum would be advisory rather than legally binding – although a ‘yes’ vote would create a strong push for Scotland to separate.
UK Government lawyer James Eadie has argued that the power to hold a referendum rests with the UK Parliament in London because ‘it is of crucial importance to the UK as a whole’, not just the UK. ‘Scotland.
Polls suggest Scots are about evenly split on independence – and also that a majority of voters don’t want a new referendum any time soon.
The five Supreme Court justices ruling on the case could decide that Scotland has the power to hold a referendum, or that it does not – or they could simply refuse to rule at all.
Scottish legal expert Andrew Tickell said that “even if the Scottish government wins and has the chance to pass a bill…it’s not the end of the story”.
Independence supporters plan to rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and other sites after the verdict, whatever the outcome.
Scotland and England have been politically united since 1707. Scotland has had its own parliament and government since 1999 and develops its own policies on public health, education and other matters. The UK-wide government in London controls matters such as defense and fiscal policy.
Sturgeon says if her government loses the case she will make the next UK national election a de facto plebiscite on ending Scotland’s three-century-old union with England. She didn’t give details on how it would work.