The long-awaited decision on the future of the northern part of Great Britain will be taken on Wednesday. London refuses to allow another Scottish referendum. To clarify whether Scotland could hold a referendum on independence without Westminster’s consent, the Scottish government took action to the High Court over the summer. In early October, the court heard both sides. In the last referendum in 2014, 55.3% of Scots voted against secession from the United Kingdom. Since Brexit in 2016, the pendulum has swung the other way. In opinion polls, supporters of Scottish independence are leading unionists.
The Scottish government now argues that the referendum has an “advisory” role and has no legal effect on the union. She claims that Brexit and the pandemic have “turned politics and economics upside down” and that independence therefore needs to be reconsidered. Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP stresses that the Scottish Parliament has an “undeniable democratic mandate” to hold a new vote on independence.
The British government struggled to convince the Supreme Court to completely bury the independence referendum. Sir James Eddy, solicitor for the London side, refused at the hearing to take up the SNP’s written arguments. Instead he claimed that Scotland had taken a “bizarre case” to the UK’s highest court, with arguments “contrary to common sense”. The day before, Dorothy Payne had declared in favor of the Scottish side that the political implications of the referendum should be ruled out. The court should only rule on the legal question of whether or not the Scottish Parliament has the legislative power to pass a referendum.
The justices will now announce their decision on two points Wednesday morning: Are they even responsible for the question? Is independence the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament?
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, Sturgeon intends to hold a referendum on whether to remain in the UK. As such, the ruling will increase tensions between Edinburgh and London, whatever the outcome. If the court decides in favor of the Scottish government, it will schedule a new referendum for October 19, 2023. On this day, according to the SNP, voters will be asked the same question as in 2014: Should Scotland be an independent country?
Particularly highly educated urban classes in Scotland are increasingly inclined towards independence since Brexit, as this could enable the country to return to the European Union. Like Northern Ireland, Scotland also voted against leaving the European Union in 2016.
If the Scottish side is right on Wednesday, independence could be declared as early as 2024 after a successful referendum in October 2023. The Prime Minister of Scotland has announced that a new election will be held in the event of defeat in court. Then her party wants to fight for an absolute majority in Parliament “with the only item on its agenda being Scottish independence”. If the SNP succeeds, it will be interpreted as an informal vote for independence.
The pro-independence platform “It’s Time for Scotland” has called for rallies in Edinburgh in front of the Holyrood government building and in eight other Scottish cities on Wednesday night. Activists hope for victory celebrations.
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