Analysis: Supreme Court decision could help finally break independence deadlock

Both sides of the constitutional divide will be nervously awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for an independence referendum.

The decision, which is due to be released on Wednesday morning, could help finally break the stultifying deadlock that dominates Scottish politics.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be messy. There are a few possible outcomes, and each presents its own difficulties.

Hide Ad

If the court decides the relevant legislation falls within Holyrood’s powers, that paves the way for a consultative referendum in October next year, as Nicola Sturgeon wants. But whether unionist parties and the UK Government play ball is a different matter. If they don’t, that risks undermining the result.

Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images
Hide Ad

It might seem like stating the obvious, but the First Minister doesn’t just want a referendum – she wants independence. And independence is worthless without international recognition. A disputed break-up benefits no one.

There’s also the question of whether the SNP is actually ready for a referendum next year. There are still numerous outstanding issues and the escalating economic crisis dominates headlines. It doesn’t feel like we are less than a year away from a seismic vote on Scotland’s future.

Hide Ad

If the court decides the proposed referendum Bill falls outwith Holyrood’s powers, then Ms Sturgeon has said the SNP will fight the next general election as a “de facto” referendum. This throws up all sorts of potential problems, and is probably best viewed as simply a tactic to exert further pressure on Downing Street.

Nevertheless, it would at least move the debate on. If pro-independence parties failed to secure enough support, the cause would suffer a significant setback. If they succeeded, could Downing Street ignore such a mandate?

Hide Ad

The Supreme Court could also decide the case is premature and decline to make a substantive ruling. After all, the relevant Bill has yet to be scrutinised or passed by MSPs.

If this happens, it would surely only be a matter of time before the legal issue was raised again. I suspect the court is only too aware of this.

Hide Ad

Most legal experts expect the Supreme Court to rule against the Scottish Government.

Either way, Wednesday could prove to be a historic moment in the debate over Scotland’s future.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.