The independence aspirations of the Scottish government have received a severe setback this Wednesday from the Supreme Court of United Kingdomwhich has unanimously rejected that an independence referendum can be called without the authorization of the British Parliament.
The Nationalist government led by Nicola Sturgeon had set a date for a new public consultation on Scottish independence, on October 19, 2023.
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However, the High Court considers that this appointment “would have important political consequences” and has concluded that the Scottish Parliament “does not have the power to legislate on a referendum on independence for Scotland.”
The main minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP, for its acronym in English), has been disappointed, although she has assured that she “respects” the Court’s decision.
In a message on Twitter, Nicola Sturgeon has warned that she will continue to fight so that the Scots can hold a consultation: “In a democracy, our voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Despite this, right now the Scottish independence movement has few legal options left to carry out a consultation if it fails to convince the British government. Something that, at least in the short term, does not seem to be happening.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court has considered that the bill that the Scottish Parliament had presented to hold a referendum, is related “to reserved matters”. In other words, the plebiscite proposal is a matter of constitutional nature and, therefore, it forms part of the powers reserved to the British Parliament.
These powers were determined in the Scotland Law of 1998, by which the autonomous parliament of this territory was formed. Under this Act, Holyrood, as the Scottish legislature is known, has no power over constitutional issuessuch as the one that concerns the union between Scotland and England.
Only the British Parliament can decide on this issue so, if there is no agreement between the two, Holyrood cannot unilaterally hold an independence plebiscite.
The British government, then headed by Boris Johnson, already rejected another consultation this year in Scotland on the grounds that the one that took place in 2014 was the “referendum of a generation and that now “was not the time” for another plebiscite.
Despite London’s refusal, Sturgeon set a date for that second consultation, but assured that it would be held legally, hence he went to the Supreme Court to obtain his opinion.
The call for a referendum without the consent of London, of the style that was held in Catalonia in 2017, has never been in the plans of the Scottish nationalist government.
But if anything is clear after the High Court decision, it is that the Scottish independence issue is not going to go away, Emily Gray, director of polls for Ipsos Scotland, told the BBC.
“For the pro-independence parties, this is going to be seen as another unfair blockade in the path of Scottish democracy,” he told the BBC’s “Politics Scotland”.
In a press conference after learning of the Supreme Court’s decision, Sturgeon assured that He’s not going to throw in the towel.
However, what options are you left with?
His plan A, getting an agreement with the British government to hold the referendum, hasn’t worked, explains BBC Scotland political editor Glen Campbell.
Plan B, that is, trying to get the Supreme Court to accept it, either.
The option that remains on the table, option C, is to use the next general elections as if they were a referendum for independence.
A legal referendum remains the preferred option of the Scottish independence movement but, in the absence of an agreement with the British government, the SNP will use the next British general election as a “de facto referendum” to show that the majority of Scots, according to Sturgeon, support independence.
The “precise details” of how this will be done will be discussed within the party, said the chief minister, who will hold a special congress next year.
“We must (find) and will find other democratic and legal means for the Scottish people to express their will,” Surgeon added.
However, the climate of opinion does not seem to have changed much in Scotland in recent months.
“Opinion polls have barely moved this year, Scots are split down the middle on independence,” Gray said.
The majority of Scots also consider that the only legitimate way to hold a referendum is with the agreement of both governments, both the Scottish and the British.
Scotland already held a first referendum in September 2014 with the approval of the British government. Scottish voters were then given the choice of remaining part of the United Kingdom or becoming an independent country.
55% of Scottish voters voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
On that occasion, the referendum could be held because David Cameron’s British government agreed to temporarily transfer the necessary powers for Holyrood to call the appointment.
However, after Brexit, which the Scots overwhelmingly voted against, Sturgeon considered that circumstances had changed and that Scotland should take charge of its future.