Supreme Court decision: Scottish independence referendum cannot be held without Westminster approval, court finds

The Supreme Court has announced its decision on whether the Scottish Parliament can hold a second independence referendum.

The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for a second independent referendum, the Supreme Court announced on Wednesday. It was a unanimous decision.

The case was brought to the court after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out plans to hold a second vote on independence on October 19, 2023. The Scottish Government's top law officer, the Lord Advocate, asked the court to rule on whether Holyrood has competence to legislate for the vote.

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Nicola Sturgeon reacts to indyref2 Supreme Court decision

Scotland Supreme Court decision: Indyref2 cannot be held without Westminster approval, court finds

Reacting to the news, the First Minister tweeted: “While disappointed by it I respect ruling of [the] UK Supreme Court - it doesn't make law, only interprets it. A law that doesn't allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership & makes case for Indy.

"Scottish democracy will not be denied. Today’s ruling blocks one route to Scotland’s voice being heard on independence - but in a democracy our voice cannot and will not be silenced. I'll make a full statement later this morning - tune in around 11.30 am.”

Supreme Court ruling on Scottish Independence

Supreme Court president Lord Reed said: "The Scottish parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence." It means the Scottish Government's top law officer, the Lord Advocate, will not be able to clear the Bill for passage through the Scottish Parliament.

Dorothy Bain KC had referred the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill to the court, seeking its decision on whether Holyrood had the competence to pass the legislation. The UK Government, which is opposed to a second vote on independence, said it is "obvious" that the Bill relates a matter reserved to Westminster.

Its legal representative, Sir James Eadie KC, also argued that the Bill was at too early a stage for the court to issue a ruling on. Lord Reed said he accepted the Lord Advocate's argument that it was in the public interest for the court to decide on the matter.

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Reading out a summary of the judgment, he firstly said the court was not being asked to express "a view on the political question of whether Scotland should become an independent country". He said: "Its task is solely to interpret the relevant provisions of the Scotland Act and decide whether the proposed Bill would relate to reserved matters."

Lord Reed, who was part of a panel of five justices, said the Lord Advocate had argued the Bill did not relate to reserved matters as the referendum would not automatically bring about the end of the union. He said the court did not agree with this interpretation, saying a referendum would have "practical" as well as legal effects.

The Supreme Court president said: "A lawfully held referendum would have important political consequences relating to the union and the United Kingdom Parliament. "Its outcome would possess the authority, in a constitution and political culture founded upon democracy, of a democratic expression of the view of the Scottish electorate."