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The UK Supreme Court rules on the legality of a referendum on Scottish independence

London opposes this and believes the 2014 vote closed the debate for a generation. Scottish separatists believe Brexit has been a game-changer.

Can Scotland hold another independence referendum without London’s deal? The UK Supreme Court will decide this crucial question for the future of the UK on Wednesday 23 November.

Independence Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already lifted the lid on the issue, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, and even the date, 19 October 2023, when it intends to organize this new hearing. Already in 2014, 55% of Scots refused to leave the UK. But in the eyes of SNP separatists in power in Edinburgh, Brexit, which 62% of voters in the province opposed since stepping in, is a game-changer. They want Scotland to rejoin the EU as an independent state.

But the central government in London strongly opposes any further independence referendum and sees the 2014 vote as the end of the debate for a generation. Anticipating a legal battle with the government in London, Nicola Sturgeon took the lead in taking the case to the Supreme Court to decide whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate on the issue without the UK government’s consent, on an issue on which Scots are particularly divided the opinion polls. The separatist leader believes she has an “indisputable mandate” to organize such an election, particularly because of the majority held by the SNP in the local parliament.

“A fundamental and inalienable right”

At last month’s High Court hearing, lawyers representing the London government argued that the Scottish government cannot decide for itself whether to hold a referendum: Edinburgh must seek permission as it is a matter reserved for central government. Opposite, Scotland’s highest judge, Dorothy Bain, argued that “the right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right”.

In a recent blog post, Stephen Tierney, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Edinburgh, opined that “more likely” is that the UK’s highest court rules that a new vote must be declared on the powers of local authorities. In such a scenario, Nicola Sturgeon has already warned that she would make the next UK general election, to be held in January 2025, a de facto referendum on the issue of independence. During the 2021 local elections, she had promised to organize a legally valid referendum once the page of the Covid-19 pandemic had turned.

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