Indyref2 Supreme Court decision: what is it and what does it mean?


The UK’s highest court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate for an independence referendum.

The court was asked by Scotland’s top judicial officer to decide whether a bill for a future referendum fell within the scope of Holyrood, and all five judges ruled that it did not, a verdict published Wednesday said.

– What was the court asked to rule on and why?

At the request of Nicola Sturgeon, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC referred the bill to the Supreme Court to allow it to pass judgment before the legislation was introduced, in an effort to break the deadlock on the issue.

The 18-page reference, submitted in July, argued that a consultative referendum on divorce did not infringe reserved powers – legislative matters decided at Westminster as opposed to Holyrood – and was therefore in the gift of the Scottish Parliament.

However, the United Kingdom Government argued that the Court should not even rule on the substance of the matter because the reference was premature as the Bill had not yet been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

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– What did the court decide?

On Wednesday morning, the President of the High Court, Lord Reed, announced that all five judges in the case ruled that the Scottish Parliament has no power to enact the bill.

The Supreme Court president said: “A lawfully conducted referendum would have important political implications in relation to the union and the UK Parliament.

“The outcome would have the authority, in a constitution and political culture based on democracy, of a democratic expression of the opinion of the Scottish electorate.”

The judges also ruled that the referral was not premature, as the Advocate General for Scotland had argued.

– How did those involved react?

Nicola Sturgeon, for her part, said she would respect the union, but reiterated her party’s plan to make Scotland’s next national election a “de facto referendum”, with a majority of the Scottish vote giving them a mandate for would give independence.

She also said the ruling “reveals as a myth” the UK’s status as a voluntary union.

But opposition parties have urged the prime minister to abandon her “obsession” with secession and focus on the problems facing Scotland.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said during Prime Minister’s questions in the hours after the verdict was handed down: “The people of Scotland want us to work to solve the big challenges we face collectively, whether that be the economy, supporting of the NHS or even support Ukraine.

“Now is the time for politicians to work together, and that’s what this government will do.”

– What happens now?

As a result of the judgment, there are now two possibilities in play, one clear and unlikely and the other more unclear but also more probable.

The Scottish government could continue to press for a Section 30 order, which would give the UK government the necessary powers to hold a referendum on Holyrood.

While Nicola Sturgeon told reporters at an hour-long press conference on Wednesday that she remained open to discussions with Rishi Sunak about such a move, she wouldn’t go “cap in hand” to seek one.

A succession of British prime ministers in recent years have expressed opposition to such a move, with Theresa May and Boris Johnson rejecting such approaches.

The most likely scenario would be an election being treated as a referendum, a course of action announced by the Prime Minister alongside plans for the referral to the Court.

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In her speech on Wednesday, she pledged this option, saying a majority of people in Scotland who vote for the SNP in the next general election – expected before January 2025 – would provide a basis for independence negotiations to start.

The SNP, she said, would meet at a special conference early next year to work out details of the approach it would take in such elections.

It is not clear whether other independence support parties would follow suit.

– Is a de facto referendum binding?

The short answer is no – the British government, whoever it may be after the election – will not be required by law to begin negotiations for Scotland’s independence.

But the issue for the resident of No. 10 would be political rather than legal.

A majority of Scots voting for independence would increase pressure on the British government to act, whether that be to allow a new referendum or start the process of expelling Scotland from the union steps.



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