SNP remain hopeful of independence despite Supreme Court ruling
By Sam Boyle
After months of speculation, today the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Government cannot hold an independence referendum without the UK Government’s consent. For those waiting on that moment to cast their vote one way or the other on Scottish independence, it means they are going to be waiting a little longer yet.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) had hoped to hold an independence referendum on the 19th October 2023. However, matters of the constitution, including the union between Scotland and England, are reserved for the UK Parliament. As there is no agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, the SNP asked the Supreme Court for a ruling whether the Scottish Government could hold a referendum on its own. Judges at the Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the Scottish government cannot hold an independence referendum without the UK government's consent.
Importantly, the decision made yesterday was a legal one, but the political dynamics remain. Unsurprisingly, it was focal point during Prime Minister’s Questions. While Rishi Sunak welcomed the “clear and definitive ruling”, he was challenged by the SNP’s Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, who stated that although he respects the decision of the court, the democracy of the union was now at stake. Elsewhere in the Chamber, former Prime Minister Theresa May said it was now time the SNP ended its “obsession with breaking (the UK) apart”.
As ever, politicians north and south of the border remain split on the issue, and the ruling by the Supreme Court will do little to appease that gridlock. And, though the theatrics of Westminster and Holyrood are always appealing, what the decision does to galvanise political opinion within Scotland in favour of a referendum, after being denied it by the UK on all fronts as nationalists will now likely argue, is perhaps now the most important aspect of this equation. Ross Greer, Member of the Scottish Parliament for the pro-independence Scottish Greens, told the BBC that the decision today was “pretty devastating for the UK’s reputation as a democracy.” Leveraging that argument will now become critical for those who are in favour of independence, weaponising the question: “how do we leave?”.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech in front of a “Stronger for Scotland” banner in which she made it clear to everyone watching that independence is “essential” however the route to it must be “lawful and democratic”. She has dedicated her life to the cause and today reiterated that the case for independence is becoming “more compelling and urgent than ever”. Inextricably, Sturgeon’s fate is now tied up in whether she can deliver a legitimate referendum within what remains of her political career.
The SNP’s argument for a referendum remains as it was. They were elected both to the UK and Scottish Parliament, and indeed to local councils up and down Scotland, on a clear mandate: to obtain a referendum and achieve Scottish independence. They argue that it is clear that the Scottish people echo their views on the matter and would like another opportunity to vote on staying in the voluntary union of equals that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
What happens next is yet to be determined. SNP Leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that she plans to push ahead with plans to make the next UK General Election a ‘de facto’ referendum on the single issue of independence. In theory this would see pro-independence parties seeking to trigger separation talks with Westminster if they win more than 50% of the vote – something which the SNP has failed to do in the past. While today did not provide a land of milk and honey, it is also hard to see it as a setback for the First Minister. She could not have expected to win, and the effort can likely be pulled into the SNP’s political narrative that Scotland is being ruled from a distant Westminster. However, for parties in opposition, they are also faced with an SNP that remains hugely focused on independence. Whether that can be crafted into a cutting critique of the SNP’s record in time for the next UK general election could have a telling impact on the health of the independence movement, and for Sturgeon’s legacy. For now, independence is far from over.