U.K. Court Ruling Raises Questions Over Scots Independence Vote
A ruling by the U.K.’s top judges has called into question the powers of the Scottish Parliament, a potential set back for nationalists seeking to force an independence referendum via the courts.
The Supreme Court ruled that two bills concerning children’s rights and local government were outside the competence of the devolved legislature in Edinburgh. They have now been sent back to the Scottish Parliament to be reconsidered, the Supreme Court said in a ruling published on Wednesday.
While completely unrelated, the decision comes as the Scottish government has promised to hold a vote on independence. The U.K. has said it won’t grant the legal permission, and some in the Scottish National Party have said that stance could be tested in court. Those options have now narrowed, according to Adam Tomkins, a professor of law at the University of Glasgow.
“First reactions to complex legal judgments are dangerous, but my first reaction is: today’s ruling does nothing to harm children’s rights in Scots law but may well prove to torpedo any argument that Holyrood can legislate solo for an Indyref2 bill,” Tomkins, a former Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
The SNP, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has said it could legislate to hold a referendum and force the U.K. government to overturn it in court. The previous vote, in 2014, was only held with the consent of the U.K. government in Westminster, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far refused to consider allowing that to happen again.
While support for Scottish independence rose above 50% for much of the coronavirus pandemic, more recent polls have shown an even split between supporters and opponents of independence.
“While we fully respect the court’s judgment, it lays bare the weakness of, and the limits in, the devolution settlement,” Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney said. “One thing is already crystal clear: the devolution settlement does not give Scotland the powers it needs.”
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