UK Supreme Court denies Scots right to hold referendum without London’s approval

Justice has decided, but the battle for Scottish independence is far from over. On Wednesday November 23, the five judges of the British Supreme Court, the highest civil court in the United Kingdom, announced that they had decided unanimously that the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood), dominated by the independence parties (the Scottish National Party, SNP, and the Greens, to a lesser extent), could not legislate a Scottish independence referendum without the approval of the British Parliament (the Palace of Westminster).

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Their argument is clear: the Scottish Parliament was established by the Scotland Act of 1998 which gives it limited powers, said Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court. A proposed Scottish Independence Referendum Act falls within the Union (of the United Kingdom), one of Westminster’s “reserved” areas, so it would be illegal without its green light. The Court also rejected an argument of the SNP, which asserted the right of peoples to self-determination. This right can only be invoked if the people in question are oppressed or have been colonized, “which is not the case in Scotland” said the President of the Supreme Court – Scotland joined England in 1707, as part of a voluntary union, when the Scottish Parliament merged with that of Westminster.

The 2014 Scottish independence referendum was legal as it was authorized by the Conservative government of David Cameron under a temporary and limited delegation of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. At the time, Mr. Cameron was confident in the defeat of the yes to independence (the SNP peaked at 30% of the polls at the start of the referendum campaign), and in the fact that a victory of the “no” would close for several generations the secessionist tendencies.

The no certainly won (at 55.3%), but the yes garnered much more support than expected. Above all, the vote in favor of Brexit two years later, which 62% of Scots opposed, completely changed the political situation in Edinburgh and justified the SNP’s demand for a new referendum. But, so far, successive Conservative governments of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have opposed it, not least because support for independence now hovers between 45% and 50% of Scottish public opinion.

Dead end legal way

Downing Street logically welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, and Nicola Sturgeon said to herself ” very disapointed “. The Scottish Prime Minister immediately went back on the offensive, ensuring “that a law which does not allow Scotland to choose its own future without the consent of Westminster proves how much the notion of voluntary Union [des nations du Royaume-Uni] is a myth. This strengthens the arguments for independence”.

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