Scotland’s independence referendum has been blocked by the UK Supreme Court


Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish government cannot unilaterally hold a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, in a blow to independence campaigners that will be welcomed by pro-union Westminster.

The court unanimously rejected an attempt by the Scottish National Party (SNP) to force a vote next October because it lacked the approval of the UK parliament.

But the decision is unlikely to end the heated debate over independence that has raged in British politics for a decade.

Scotland last voted on the issue with Westminster approval in 2014, when voters rejected the prospect of independence by 55% to 45%.

The pro-independence SNP has nevertheless dominated politics north of the border in recent years at the expense of traditional, pro-union groups. Successive SNP leaders have promised to give Scottish voters a chance to vote again, especially after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.

The latest push by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon included holding an advisory referendum later next year, similar to the referendum that resulted in Brexit in 2016. But the country’s highest court agreed that even a non-legal mandatory vote would require Westminster oversight given its practical implications.

Reading out the court’s judgment, Lord Reed said: “A legally held referendum will have important political consequences for the Commonwealth and the UK Parliament.”

“This will either strengthen or weaken the democratic legitimacy of the Union’s and the UK Parliament’s sovereignty over Scotland, depending on which view prevails, and will either support or weaken the democratic credentials of the independence movement,” he said.

Sturgeon said on Wednesday she accepted the decision but tried to frame the decision as another pillar in the argument for leaving. “A bill that would not allow Scotland to choose our own future without consent from Westminster exposes the UK’s concept of voluntary partnership as a myth and makes (a) case for independence,” he tweeted.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, he accused the British government of “denying open democracy.”

Sturgeon said her next step in securing a vote would be to brand Britain’s general election, scheduled for January 2025 at the latest, as a referendum on which course to take in Scotland.

But UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the court’s “clear and decisive decision” as an opportunity to move past the independence debate. “The people of Scotland want us to work together to tackle the key challenges we face collectively, whether it’s the economy, the NHS or supporting Ukraine,” he said.

Opinion polls show that Scots remain split on whether to leave the UK, with no clear consensus on either side.

England and Scotland have been in political union since 1707, but many Scots have long understood the one-sided relationship dominated by England. Scottish voters have historically rejected the ruling Conservative Party at the ballot box and have voted overwhelmingly against Brexit over the past decade, fueling debate over the issue, but to no avail.

Since 1999, Scotland has had a devolved government, meaning that many decisions, but not all, are made in the SNP-led Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh.