What happens next in Scottish government's plans for independence?

The UK's highest court rules that the Edinburgh administration cannot hold a second referendum

The UK Supreme Court has told Scotland's devolved administration that it does not have the power to hold a referendum on ending Scotland's 315-year political union with England. Getty
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The UK's Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland's devolved government cannot hold a second referendum on independence without the consent of Westminster.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced a poll for October 2023 on the question of whether the union between Scotland and England should be dissolved. Voters in Scotland rejected the proposal in 2014.

The UK government has refused to agree to a second referendum.

Britain's highest court was asked to rule on whether the devolved Scottish Parliament could hold a referendum without Westminster's agreement.

On Wednesday, it delivered its verdict.

“The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence,” Supreme Court President Baron Robert Reed said.

The judges said a vote would need to be agreed to by the UK government, as was the case in 2014.

The power to call a referendum was reserved to Westminster, and therefore “the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence”, Lord Reed said, delivering the unanimous ruling.

So what happens next?

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, Scotland's senior law officer, will not be able to approve a referendum bill for the parliament in Edinburgh.

The Scottish government will have to continue to pushing for a Section 30 order that would provide Holyrood with the necessary powers to call another vote.

No stopping Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon said she will not be deterred.

“A law that doesn't allow Scotland to choose our own future without [UK parliament] consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership,” the Scottish National Party leader tweeted.

“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.”

In June, she said that if her government lost the case, she would make the next UK general election a de facto plebiscite on dissolving Scotland’s 315-year union with England.

Speaking on Wednesday following the announcement, she said she now intends to forge ahead with that plan.

"The fact is the SNP is not abandoning the referendum route, Westminster is blocking it," Ms Sturgeon said.

"In that scenario, unless we give up on democracy — and for the avoidance of any doubt, I for one am simply not prepared to do that — we must and we will find another democratic, lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will."

Election call

That can "only be" an election, Ms Sturgeon said.

"The next national election scheduled for Scotland is, of course, the UK general election, making that both the first and the most obvious opportunity to seek what I described back in June as a de facto referendum," she added.

"As with any proposition in any party manifesto in any election, it is of course up to the people how they respond. No party can dictate the basis on which people cast their votes. But a party can be, indeed should be, crystal clear about the purpose for which it is seeking popular support.

"In this case for the SNP it will be to establish, just as in a referendum, majority support in Scotland for independence so we can then achieve independence."

Updated: November 24, 2022, 6:49 AM