Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of a new independence referendum were shattered today as the Supreme Court rejected claims she had the right to hold a vote. Reading out the judgment this morning, Supreme Court President Lord Reed said: “The Scottish parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence.”
He added a ruling had been reaching quicker than expected as all five judges presiding over the case had been “unanimous” in their decision.
The court judgment said the Scotland Act – which outlines the scope of Scottish devolution – made clear Holyrood can’t pass bills that “relate to reserved matters”, including “the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England”.
It means proposed legislation by Ms Sturgeon to hold a vote next autumn can no longer be passed through the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government’s top law officer, the Lord Advocate, had referred the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill to the court, seeking its decision on whether Holyrood had the competence to pass the legislation.
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The SNP-led Scottish Government had argued that it could hold a referendum without support from Westminster as it was only “advisory” and not binding.
However, Lord Reed 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.”
The SNP had further argued the limitations on the powers of the Scottish Parliament in the Scotland Act should be “restrictively interpreted in a way which is compatible with that right under international law”.
It attempted to use a Canadian court case involving Quebec to make the case for “self-determination”.
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The court rejected the argument, saying the example was only relevant to “former colonies, or where a people is oppressed”.
Crowds of pro-independence supporters gathered outside the court in London to hear the result.
The SNP are unable to appeal the Supreme Court’s judgment, ending the Scottish First Minister’s hopes of getting approval to legally hold a referendum without the support of a majority of MPs.
Following the verdict, Ms Sturgeon said: “While disappointed by it I respect the 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 and makes case for independence.
“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.”
She has already suggested she will now use the next general election as a de facto referendum.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the SNP should now focus on the “enormous challenges” facing the country.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon insisted on taking this case to the Supreme Court at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Scottish taxpayer – and this ruling confirms that it was a waste of time and money.
“The Scottish people have made it clear in poll after poll that they don’t want another referendum next year.
“The country faces enormous challenges right now. Our economy and our NHS are in crisis. We have a wave of public-sector strikes – including the first teachers’ strike in almost four decades. These key issues must be everyone’s top priority.
“Holding another divisive referendum next year is the wrong priority at the worst possible time for Scotland.”