Scottish independence: UK Government tells Supreme Court another referendum is ‘outside legislative competence’ of Scottish Parliament

The UK Government has told the Supreme Court another vote on independence is “outside the legislative competence” of Scottish parliament.

The Advocate General for Scotland Lord Stewart QC has published his written submission to the court on Wednesday in in a bid to halt the Scottish Government's attempt to have another referendum through the courts.

It comes after Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, Scotland’s top law officer, referred a prospective referendum Bill to the UK Supreme Court to determine if it is within Holyrood’s powers.

In its submission, the UK Government argues the proposed bill "does not give rise to a 'devolution issue'”.

The UK Government’s written case to the Supreme Court has said the reference on a Scottish independence referendum should be declined.

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It also calls for the court to refuse a reference made under the Scotland Act 1998 where the bill has not yet been introduced or passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Finally, it argues the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament.

The papers state: “It is submitted that the Scottish Parliament plainly does not have the competence to legislate for an advisory referendum on the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom.

“To do so impermissibly relates to schedule 5 of the 1998 Act.

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“The provision made in schedule six for the deferral of devolution issues directly to this court was not intended to circumvent the specific statutory procedure in section 33 of the 1998 Act.

“If the court decides that it does have jurisdiction, the AGS submits, secondly, that the answer to the question referred is ‘yes’.

“A referendum on Scottish independence plainly (at least) relates to the reserved matters of the Union of the Kingdom of Scotland and England and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

“That conclusion is unaffected by whether the referendum is, in its outcome, advisory or legally binding.”

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The legal arguments centre on differing interpretations of the Scotland Act 1998, which says matters relating to the Union are reserved to Westminster.

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A UK Government spokesperson said: “People across Scotland want both their governments to be working together on the issues that matter to them and their families, not talking about another independence referendum.

“We have today [10 August] published the papers we have submitted to the Supreme Court, and will set out our case at the hearing in October.

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“On the question of legislative competence, the UK Government’s clear view remains that a Bill legislating for a referendum on independence would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”

A hearing on the matter will be held in London on October 11 and October 12.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold a referendum in October next year, but the UK Government has refused to agree to this.

In its own application, the SNP claimed the “referendum itself is not an act of secession; it is not a unilateral declaration of independence”.

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It adds: “Put short, the holding of a consultative referendum does not result in a reduction in the scope of the powers of the UK Parliament and nor does it, of itself, have any effect on the Union.

"Legislation to enable such a referendum does not, therefore, in the respectful submission of the applicant, relate to the reservation of the Union nor to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union called for Ms Sturgeon to focus on “matters closer to home”.

She said: “In the week that the SNP’s shameful record on education has been exposed, it’s clear once again the nationalists’ attention lies elsewhere.

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“The appalling attainment gap is widening on her watch. It exposes her pledge that education is her number one priority as a complete nonsense.

“If she spent half as much time on the standards of education as she does on trying to break up the UK, pupils and teachers would be far better off.

“Scotland’s positive future is with the rest of the United Kingdom working together on the issues that really matter.”

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