LONDON – dealing a blow to independent-minded Scots, Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot unilaterally schedule a second referendum on whether to split from the UK or not.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said a decision on whether to hold a referendum could not be made without the consent of the British Parliament. The British government has repeatedly rejected calls by the Scottish National Party for another referendum, following one such vote earlier. decrease in 2014.
“A legally held referendum would have significant political consequences regarding the Union and the UK Parliament,” said Robert Reed, president of the Supreme Court, reading the decision. . Therefore, he added, the law on holding the vote is a matter “exclusively” for Parliament in London.
The Court rejected the Scottish nationalists’ argument that they should be allowed to hold referendums on the basis of their right to self-determination under international law. It said the Scots had failed to meet the threshold of being an “oppressed” people to warrant such status.
The widely-anticipated decision lifted one of the dark clouds hovering over the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak. He is struggling with an economic crisisone strained relations with the European Unionand split in his Conservative Party after political upheaval ousted two of his predecessors in the past four months.
But defeat for those who support the separation of Scotland is unlikely to stop the independence movement, which has gained momentum since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the ruling underscores the need for Edinburgh to break free from London rule.
“Scottish democracy will not be denied,” Ms. Sturgeon posted on Twitter. “Today’s ruling blocks a path to Scotland’s voice on independence – but in a democracy our voices cannot and will not be silenced.”
As a matter of fact, however, judgment is an obstacle. A referendum held without British approval would lack international legitimacy, which could complicate Scotland’s stated goal of rejoining the European Union as a member of the European Union. is an independent country. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scots voted to remain part of the bloc.
The Scottish Parliament had hoped to arrange a second independence referendum in October, giving it time to mobilize support. In 2014, Scots voted against leaving by 55% to 45%. Support has risen and waned since then, but polls since Brexit have generally shown growing support for a split.
In survey of public attitudes released in September, the nonprofit National Center for Social Research found that 52% of people in Scotland are in favor of independence, up from 23% in 2012. “The union has certainly become less common north of the border,” the survey’s authors wrote.
Mr Sunak, who became prime minister last month, is less popular in Scotland than previous British leaders, especially his former boss Boris Johnson. In August 2020, Mr Johnson sent Mr Sunak, then Finance Secretary, to Scotland to try to placate nationalist sentiment.
But now Mr. Sunak faces other headwinds. Public sentiment has turned against Brexit as Britain’s economy deteriorates. That could feed Scots desire for secession, as Brexit has never been popular there. Following Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, the British government, welcoming the decision, tried to change the subject.
“The people of Scotland want both of their governments to focus all their attention and resources on the issues that matter most to them,” Scotland’s secretary, Alister Jack, said in a statement. “That’s why we’re focused on issues like restoring economic stability, helping people get the help they need with their energy bills and supporting our NHS.”