With warnings of a second independence referendum already being sounded following the SNP’s election success it is as well to remind ourselves of certain facts.
Under devolution legislation some matters are reserved to Westminster. One of these is the Union. In other words, it’s not within the power of a Scottish Government to break up the UK.
The law being the law, the legislation is open to interpretation and indeed the SNP has argued in the past that Holyrood does have the right to stage a referendum.
This interpretation has never been tested and the UK Supreme Court may or may not agree.
However, the law is clearer about the fact that Westminster would not be obliged to act on the outcome of any such vote. It would be similar to the referendums held in recent years by the Catalan government in its attempts to form a state independent of Spain.
The outcomes – invariably Yes based on a paltry turnout – are duly ignored by Madrid.
Last year’s Scottish referendum, contrary to SNP claims, was instigated not in response to a call from the people but because of the party’s agitation (at the time of the Edinburgh Agreement support for Yes stood at only about 30 per cent).
It could only be staged because Westminster issued a Section 30 Order temporarily granting the Scottish Government the power to do so.
Essentially a legitimate plebiscite on independence requires the sanction and co-operation of the UK Government. Given we’ve already had one referendum with a clear outcome, given the SNP went back on its “once-in-a-generation” word, given there is no guarantee that the party would not demand a third vote in the event of losing a second, David Cameron would be wholly justified in refusing any request for one.