UK Supreme Court rejects Scotland’s independence referendum bid

Scottish flags are held by demonstrators, outside the Supreme Court, in London, Wednesday. (Alberto Pezzali-AP)

A major setback for nationalists hoping to hold a vote in 2023, the United Kingdom’s highest court has decided that the Scottish government cannot hold a second independence referendum next year without authorisation from the British parliament.

Independentists point to the 2016 referendum result, in which Britons voted to leave the European Union despite widespread opposition in Scotland, as evidence that the situation had changed significantly since 2014 when Scots rejected ending the more than 300-year-old union with England by a 55-45 margin.

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who also happens to be the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), announced earlier this year that she planned to hold an advisory independence vote on October 19, 2023. However, she stressed that the vote had to be conducted in a legal and internationally recognised manner.

However, the British government in London has declared it will not approve another referendum since such a vote should only be held once every century.

According to public opinion polls, an independence referendum is likely too close to call.

To find out if the Scottish government could adopt laws allowing for a second advisory referendum without the consent of the UK parliament, the Scottish government’s top law officer asked the UK Supreme Court.

The court said on Wednesday that it could not.

According to Robert Reed, president of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, “the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence.”

All topics about the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England are reserved for the UK parliament by the 1998 Scotland Act. The Act established the Scottish parliament and devolved some powers from Westminster.

Sturgeon tweeted after Wednesday’s ruling that she was disappointed but would abide by the court’s decision despite her displeasure.

She said that the UK’s claim to be a voluntary partnership was disproved by a statute that prevented Scotland from making decisions about its destiny without approval from Westminster.

“Scottish democracy will not be denied. 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,” she added.