The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon is daring Downing Street by asking the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of holding a new referendum on Scottish independence without the consent of Westminster.
While addressing Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs),she said her government wanted to stage a second independence referendum on 19 October 2023, using the same question put to voters in 2014: “Should Scotland be an independent country”?
The First minister speaking at Holyrood said she had requested the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, to write to the Supreme Court in London, asking it to establish whether the Scottish Government had the necessary legal powers to stage a consultative referendum on its own. If the court ruled that that would not be a lawful use of her government’s resources or that her Government is breaching its constitutional powers, the Scottish National Party (SNP) would make independence its only policy at the next UK general election.
Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that should the Supreme Court rule otherwise, the next election will become “a de facto referendum” in which the SNP would be empowered to open independence talks with the UK government if it won a majority of votes. In the 2015 general election, the SNP won 49.97% of the overall votes in Scotland but 45% in 2019.
Speaking to reporters, Sturgeon said, it would be “ridiculous” to describe the process of approaching the Supreme Court as a unilateral declaration of independence, but said: “The point I’m making is that Scotland cannot and will not be in a position where its democracy is a prisoner of Westminster intransigence.
“People will have that opportunity to make their views known on independence and [we] will put that question at the heart of the election campaign.”
Opinions from Constitutional Lawyers predicts that the Supreme Court will rule that it would be unlawful for Holyrood and the Scottish government to stage a referendum of this sort without Westminster delegating to them, the powers to do so under section 30 of the Scotland Act.
Meanwhile Dorothy Bain QC The Lord Advocate had notified the UK government’s law officers of the First Minister’s request to the supreme court. The court confirmed it had received the request and would hear the case, and the court’s president, Lord Reed, will now decide how to proceed.
Sturgeon said her preferred date for the referendum exercise was set out in a new referendum bill, also released on Tuesday. In her letter to Boris Johnson, she said she deeply regretted taking the step but that the Prime Minister had forced it on her by refusing to grant a section 30 order.
Sturgeon said she wanted to pre-empt inevitable legal battles with the opponents of independence and the UK government over this question, hence the request to the Supreme Court.
The UK government said it did not believe a referendum was justified and would only be lawful with Westminster’s consent. Speaking to reporters as he flew to Madrid for a Nato Summit, Johnson said he had not yet read Sturgeon’s statement but promised to study it carefully and respond properly.
“The focus of the country should be on building a stronger economy. That’s what we’re doing with our plan for a stronger economy and I certainly think that we’ll be able to have a stronger economy and a stronger country together,” he said.
Scotland is a democracy, being represented in both the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom since the Scotland Act 1998. Most executive power is exercised by the Scottish Government, led by the First Minister of Scotland, the Head of government in a multi-party system.
The first independence referendum in September 2014 was held after the then Prime Minister David Cameron, agreed to temporarily give Holyrood those powers after signing an agreement with the then First Minister, Alex Salmond.