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UK top court to rule on legality of new Scottish independence referendum

The United Kingdom’s top court will give its ruling on Wednesday on whether the Scottish government can hold a second referendum on independence next year without approval from the British parliament, potentially paving the way for a new vote.

November 23, 2022
By Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill
23 November 2022

By Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s top
court will give its ruling on Wednesday on whether the Scottish
government can hold a second referendum on independence next
year without approval from the British parliament, potentially
paving the way for a new vote.

In 2014, Scots rejected ending the more-than 300-year-old
union with England by 55% to 45%, but independence campaigners
have argued the vote two years later for Britain to leave the
European Union, which the majority of Scottish voters opposed,
has materially changed the circumstances.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the
pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), announced
earlier this year that she intended to hold an advisory
independence vote on Oct. 19, 2023, but that it had to be lawful
and internationally recognised.

However, the British government in London has said it would
not grant permission for another plebiscite, saying it should be
a once-in-a-generation event. Polls suggest voters remain evenly
split over whether or not they support independence and a vote
would be too close to call.

Under the 1998 Scotland Act, which created the Scottish
parliament and devolved some powers from Westminster, all
matters relating to the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and
England are reserved to the UK parliament.

The Supreme Court will decide firstly whether it should
consider the issue at all, given that no referendum bill has
been introduced yet into Scotland’s devolved parliament.

If it concludes it has jurisdiction, it will then decide
whether an advisory referendum is a reserved matter.

In two days of hearings in October, the Scottish government
argued that while politically significant, the vote on
independence would be merely advisory and not legally binding.

However, the Conservative-led British government said the
court should not even engage with an abstract legal question.

Most legal experts expect the court to support the view that
no referendum can be held without the British government’s
approval. Sturgeon has said that if that is the outcome, then
her party would seek to make the next UK-wide election, expected
in 2024, a ‘de facto’ vote on independence.

Scottish politics has been diverging from other parts of
the United Kingdom for some time. The SNP has been the largest
party in the Scottish parliament since 2007, partly driven by
the demand for another referendum.

However, the party has been under pressure over its record
on health and education. Scotland has the highest drug deaths in
Europe and two thirds of the population is either obese or
overweight, while a think tank report last year said its
education system is the weakest in the United Kingdom.

“The independence movement is stuck, blocked
constitutionally and legally, and it is stuck on 50% of the
vote,” Michael Keating, a professor of politics at the
University of Aberdeen.

“The unionists are also stuck on 50% of the vote and have
run out of arguments for the union. They have not been able to
articulate a clear case for the union and why Scotland should
remain part of it.”
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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