LONDON — The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to stage a referendum on independence without consent from the British government, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, dashing hopes for a second vote next year on whether Scots want to leave the United Kingdom.
The British government — under prime minsters Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak — has been opposed to a second referendum.
The government did allow a referendum in 2014, in which a majority of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom, by 55 percent to 45 percent.
The independence question was complicated two years later in the June 2016 vote over Brexit — in which the Scots strongly backed remaining in the European Union, by 62 percent to 38 percent.
Johnson argued that the 2014 referendum was “a once in a generation” vote and that the issue was settled.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Sunak called the court ruling “clear and definitive,” and said the Scottish leadership should pivot to more-pressing challenges, such as fixing the National Health Service and helping the economy.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon had been pushing for a referendum in October next year. Sturgeon leads the Scottish National Party, the nation’s largest vote-getter, which seeks independence, and she says there is an “undisputed mandate” to have another vote.
Her government has laid out in reports the reasons it believes Scotland should now be — more than ever — separate from the United Kingdom. Among them? So Scotland could rejoin the European Union.
After the ruling, Sturgeon issued a statement saying she respected the Supreme Court, but adding: It “doesn’t make law, only interprets it.”
In a tweet, Sturgeon said that “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 & makes case for Indy,” the shorthand for a second referendum.
“Scottish democracy will not be denied,” she said. “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.”
At a news conference, Sturgeon said that the next general election, scheduled to be held no later than January 2025, should serve as a “de facto referendum” on independence. Exactly how that would work remains unclear.