After a legal setback in the High Court on Wednesday, Scotland’s First Minister warned that the next UK general election would be a “de facto” vote on Scottish independence.
Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled, unsurprisingly, that Scotland cannot hold a new independence referendum without London’s consent.
“The court unanimously held that the bill (for the referendum, editor’s note) concerned matters reserved for central government in London,” Chief Justice Robert Reed explained. In fact, “the Scottish Parliament has no legislative power for an independence referendum”.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was quick to react, “disappointed”: “The law, which does not allow Scotland to choose its own future without the consent of Westminster, shows that the concept of a voluntary partnership with the UK is a myth.”
Faced with this failure in court, Ms. Sturgeon reiterated at her press conference in Edinburgh that the next general election to be held in Great Britain by January 2025 will be a “de facto referendum” on the question of independence.
“We will find other democratic, legal and constitutional means for the people of Scotland to express their will,” he said.
Nicola Sturgeon has already announced the question to be asked to the Scots (“Should Scotland be an independent country?”), as well as the date on which she wants to organize a new referendum (October 19, 2023).
In 2014, 55% of Scots refused to leave the UK. But in the eyes of SNP separatists in power in Edinburgh, Brexit, which has since been opposed by 62% of voters in the state, is a game-changer. They want Scotland to rejoin the European Union as an independent state.
London’s central government believes the 2014 vote closed the debate for a generation.
Anticipating a legal confrontation, Nicola Sturgeon led the takeover of the High Court.
– Angry –
In Edinburgh, some Scots gathered to express their anger. Store manager Margaret Turner, 58, told AFP: “I’m a little bored, but this is just the beginning. (…) Either in my lifetime or in the lifetime of the children, we will have independence.”
“England doesn’t give us a say. (…) I’m angry and disappointed,” added Gerard Clarke, a 74-year-old pensioner.
The court held that such a referendum, even deliberative, would have direct consequences for the union of Great Britain, which was “reserved” to the central government in London, and therefore must give its consent before such a referendum could be held.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told MPs in parliament to respect the “clear and final decision” he had been given.
“At a time of unprecedented challenges, the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom have never been clearer,” said Alistair Jack, the UK’s minister for Scotland.
He urged Edinburgh to “focus on the issues that matter most” to Scotland amid the housing crisis.
For Independence MP Ian Blackford, the referendum issue is “a matter of mass democracy”. He blasted “the so-called partnership where one partner has no right to choose or even question another future.”
– “Fundamental and inalienable right” –
Anti-independence Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar called on him to “get rid of” this “rotten” Conservative government. “Let’s show that we can make the UK work for all parts of the country,” he told the BBC.
In a hearing last month, Scotland’s top court, Dorothy Bain, argued that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right”.
But the Supreme Court rejected his arguments on Wednesday, with Robert Reed saying that international law on self-determination only applies to former colonies or populations under military occupation, or where a group does not have access to certain rights.
Independent MP Philippa Whitford told AFP after the decision: “I would have preferred a different decision, but it gives a clear answer and I think it’s good.” For him, supporters of the union still need to “reflect on the democratic right of Scots to choose their own future”.