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UK’s top judges throw out Scotland’s fresh independence bid
Referendum

UK’s top judges throw out Scotland’s fresh independence bid

2 min. 23.11.2022
Rishi Sunak has said he wouldn’t grant permission for another referendum
Photo credit: Graham Stuart/epa/dpa

The UK’s top judges have thrown out an attempt by the Scottish government to bypass Westminster and call a second independence referendum, thwarting nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a vote next year.     

The Supreme Court was asked by Scotland’s top legal adviser to assess whether the Scottish Parliament had the power to legislate unilaterally for a consultative referendum. 

The London-based court ruled unanimously that a vote would need to be approved by the UK government, as it was when Scotland held a previous referendum in 2014.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds a press conference in Edinburgh on November 23, 2022.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds a press conference in Edinburgh on November 23, 2022.
Andy Buchanan/AFP

“The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence,” Judge Robert Reed said in his summary of the judgment at a hearing on Wednesday. “Even if the referendum has no immediate legal consequences, it would be a political event with important political consequences,” the court ruled.

The decision will come as a relief for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he tries to restore investor confidence in the UK. Like his predecessors, Sunak has said he wouldn’t grant permission for another referendum on Scotland’s three-centuries-old union with England and Wales. 

Sturgeon says her nation has a democratic right to one after Scotland voted against Brexit and her Scottish National Party continued to triumph in subsequent elections.

“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,” Sturgeon said in a statement on Twitter.

The pound held onto earlier gains, trading around $1.192 (€1.15). Currency analysts had warned of volatility if the court ruled in favour of the Scottish government.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the semi-autonomous Scottish government is now likely to explore other avenues in pursuit of a vote. Sturgeon has vowed to make the next UK general election - due in 2024 - a de facto vote on independence. 

Scottish independence supporters listen to the Supreme Court's ruling in London, November 23, 2022
Scottish independence supporters listen to the Supreme Court's ruling in London, November 23, 2022
Justin Tallis/AFP

With Scotland roughly split on the issue of independence, it’s a gamble for Sturgeon, who has been under pressure from factions of her party keen to force the issue of a vote on breaking away from the rest of the UK. She became SNP leader and Scottish first minister in 2014 in the wake of the last independence vote, in which Scots chose 55% to 45% to remain in the UK.

Since then, she’s built her party into a formidable electoral machine and it still appears unassailable in Scotland. Recently, opposition parties have been attacking Sturgeon for the state of health care in Scotland, planned strike action by teachers and a scandal over the procurement of ferries.

“People in Scotland want both their governments to be concentrating all attention and resources on the issues that matter most to them,” Alister Jack, the secretary for Scotland in the UK government, said by email after the ruling.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.


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