First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hopes to stage a second independence referendum in Scotland on 19th October 2023. Scotland’s lord advocate, Dorothy Bain QC has written to the Supreme Court asking it to rule on the legality of holding a new referendum without Westminster’s permission. This follows Sturgeon’s formal request to Boris Johnson that Westminster give Holyrood (the seat of Scottish parliament) the legal powers to legislate for another vote under section 30 of the Scotland Act.
The UK government has repeated its position that “now is not the time” for another referendum, citing the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine and the long recovery from COVID, as more pressing matters. Downing Street has promised to make a formal response to Sturgeon’s letter, though it is expected to suggest a mutually beneficial alternative, as Boris Johnson is not expected to change his mindset.
The SNP has not confirmed what its next move would be if the Supreme Court were to rule against it and prevent a referendum from taking place. Though Sturgeon has stated that she will continue pursuing a second referendum, regardless of whether Westminster consents.
Sturgeon has been met with fierce resistance from some, with Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, warning:
“The recovery hasn’t even started yet, in fact things have got worse. Instead, we have gone back to the divisive Nicola Sturgeon who is now spending seven days a week, sometimes what feels like 24 hours a day focusing on what she cares about, breaking up our country and dividing our people, not rebuilding it.”
Sturgeon insists that the question should be the same as it was in 2014, that is to say, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Though she has made her determination clear, Sturgeon has further reiterated that any referendum would need to be “indisputably lawful” and constitutional. If the Supreme Court rules that Holyrood does not have the power to hold a referendum, Sturgeon has warned that the next general election would become a “de facto referendum” with the SNP standing on a single issue of independence. However, should the court rule in favour of Holyrood, Sturgeon stated that the Scottish Government would move quickly to pass its Referendum Bill.