Scottish Court to Fast-Track Appeal in Referendum Powers Case

A Scottish court agreed to fast-track an appeal in a case brought by independence campaigners that seeks to assert that the country’s devolved government has the power to hold an independence referendum without the approval of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Martin Keatings, who brought the crowd-funded case, said the decision means the Inner House of Edinburgh’s Court of Session will hear the appeal before May’s Scottish local election. That vote is being framed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her pro-independence Scottish National Party as a vote on the right to another referendum on Scotland’s future.

With opinion polls showing that the SNP is on course for a majority in May, the question of how Sturgeon will secure a legal referendum is becoming increasingly urgent. Some within her party are calling for one to then force the U.K. government to challenge it in court.

Johnson has repeatedly rebuffed calls for a new vote on separation, arguing that the 2014 referendum, in which Scots voted to remain in the U.K. by 55% to 45%, has settled the matter for the foreseeable future. That vote was only held after then Prime Minister David Cameron granted an order that transferred the necessary powers to Edinburgh.

Keatings is asking Scotland’s judiciary to issue a so-called declarator, stating that the Scottish Parliament can call the vote without the approval of the U.K. government. Whatever the outcome, the case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court in London.

The Edinburgh court earlier heard that for the motion to be granted, the judge had to be convinced that the case stood a reasonable chance of success. The appeal is now likely to be heard in the first week of April, Keatings said.

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