Scottish independence: Blocking a referendum will only increase support for leaving the UK. Democracy must prevail – Angus Robertson

In a democracy, the will of the people should be respected. Having voted repeatedly since Brexit to have a referendum on independence, Scotland must be able to determine its future at the ballot box.

Last year’s Scottish Parliament elections settled the issue with the largest pro-referendum majority ever elected to Holyrood. The parties that supported a plebiscite won and the parties that didn’t lost.

Having lost the election and the argument about a referendum, opposition parties have sought to deny democracy at every opportunity. Every excuse under the sun has been deployed from "now is not the time” apparently, to we can only have a democratic decision “once in a generation”, or “things are too uncertain”.

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Frankly it’s not up to the election losers to dictate when the time is right, the electorate has decided it should be this parliamentary term. There is no generational restriction on referendums, in fact the Good Friday Agreement highlights the opportunity for Northern Ireland to choose its future every seven years.

As for UK politicians saying that their economic uncertainty is a reason to delay democracy, it is the opposite: it underlines the need for change. Even in recent days we have heard a new twist on the delay and deny reasoning: it should require a single-party majority to secure a referendum as opposed to a wider parliamentary majority. Coming from the party that delivered a Brexit referendum on 37 per cent of the UK vote, it doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

In 2011 voters in Scotland elected 71 pro-referendum MSPs out of 129, a clear majority. What followed was an agreement by the UK and Scottish governments that a legal and agreed referendum should take place. With the use of a Section 30 Order, Westminster decision-makers recognised the legitimacy of the mandate to hold a referendum.

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In 2021, voters in Scotland elected 72 pro-referendum MSPs out of 129, a clear and bigger majority than 2011. Following the Brexit referendum where Scotland was taken out of the European Union against the wishes of a 62 per cent vote to remain in Scotland, the public has decided to have another say about its independent future.

Sadly Westminster politicians, including Tory Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, have all said that they will disregard Scottish democracy. That is the context for the UK Supreme Court case about a Scottish referendum.

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Parties in favour of a referendum on Scottish independence won the majority of Holyrood seats at the last election (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

By blocking a democratic route it has been left to Supreme Court judges to decide whether the Scottish Parliament can initiate a referendum without the agreement of the UK Government. What’s clear is that a legal, respected and recognised democratic way forward is required.

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The UK was established as a multinational voluntary union and if nations within it are blocked from deciding their own future it’s no longer voluntary. If the UK is to morph into an involuntary unitary state which routinely denies democracy this will have consequences.

History should remind Westminster democracy deniers that blocking Scottish devolution in 1979 only fuelled the demands for self-determination and led to a 75 per cent referendum vote in 1997. Standing in the way of a referendum will only strengthen the case for independence, as it will prove the UK does not respect the rights of people in Scotland.

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Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary