The UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Scotland does not have the power to hold a new referendum on independence without the consent of the British government. The ruling is a setback for the Scottish government’s campaign to secede from the UK.
The high court ruled that the Scottish Parliament “does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence”.
Chief Justice Robert Reed said the five justices were unanimous in the verdict, delivered six weeks after lawyers for the Scottish independence administration and Britain’s Conservative government argued their cases in hearings in London.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was disappointed but that he would “respect” the sentence. However, she said on Twitter: “A law that does not allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster’s consent exposes as a myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary association and advocates (independence).”
Independence supporters plan to demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and elsewhere later on Wednesday.
The Scottish semi-autonomous government wants to hold a referendum next October on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The UK government in London refuses to pass a votesaying the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum in which Scottish voters rejected independence by a 55% to 45% margin.
However, the independence government in Edinburgh wants to review the decision, arguing that Britain’s exit from the European Union, which was opposed by a majority of Scottish voters, has radically changed the political and economic landscape.
Sturgeon argues that he has a democratic mandate from the Scottish people to hold a new secession vote because there is a majority supporting independence in Parliament.
During High Court hearings last month, Dorothy Bain, the Scottish government’s top legal officer, said most Scottish lawmakers had been elected with a commitment to hold a new independence referendum. She also said a referendum would be advisory, rather than legally binding, although a “yes” vote would create strong momentum for Scotland to secede.
UK government lawyer James Eadie argued that the power to hold a referendum rests with the UK Parliament in London, because “it is vitally important to the UK as a whole”not just for Scotland.
The Supreme Court justices agreed. They said it is clear that “a bill providing for a referendum on independence, on ending the UK Parliament’s sovereignty over Scotland, has more than a vague or consequential connection to that Parliament’s sovereignty.”
Reed stressed that the court “was not, and cannot be, asked to express an opinion on the political question of whether Scotland should become an independent country.”
Polls suggest that Scots are divided in equal parts about independence, and also that the majority of voters do not want a new referendum any time soon.
Scotland and England have been politically united since 1707. Scotland has had its own parliament and government since 1999 and makes its own policies on public health, education and other matters. The UK-wide government in London controls matters such as defense and tax policy.
Sturgeon has said that if his government loses its case, it will make Britain’s next national election a de facto plebiscite to end Scotland’s three-century union with England. She hasn’t provided details on how that would work.
(with information from AP)
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