The Supreme Court will decide on Wednesday morning whether the Scottish parliament can hold a second independence referendum without Westminster’s approval, as independence supporters are expected to take to the streets in rallies across the country.
The decision will have significant political implications for the UK and Scottish governments depending on how it falls. It could finally settle the question of process that has vexed both sides of the constitutional debate since the Scottish National Party lost the first independence referendum in 2014.
It follows a two-day hearing last month before five justices, led by Robert Reed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The hearing came after Scotland’s chief legal adviser, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, referred the question of whether Holyrood needed Westminster’s approval at the request of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Three successive Tory prime ministers have refused to allow a second referendum, arguing that only Westminster has the legal power to approve one under the 1998 Scottish Act which created the Scottish parliament.
Should the Supreme Court rule in her favour, and with support for independence hovering around 50% in recent polls, Sturgeon said she wants to hold the next referendum on October 19, 2023.
If he decides against it, the SNP leader told her party’s conference in October that it would leave her no choice but to ‘present our case for independence to the people in an election “.
It is also an option for the court to ask the Scottish government to raise the issue at a later date, after Sir James Eadie KC, acting for the UK government, argued that the dismissal was premature and moot because any plans to legislation submitted to the Supreme Court had to first be reviewed, amended and then approved by the MSPs.
Meanwhile, at least 14 pro-independence rallies are planned for the afternoon of ‘judgment day’ from the Scottish Borders to Orkney, as well as five across Europe, as prominent campaigners cheer on supporters to make themselves visible at this “historic moment” regardless of the outcome of the court.
Lesley Riddoch, broadcaster and veteran independence campaigner, is hosting a rally at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh from 5.30pm. She said: “If the yes movement is to be visible across the UK and in Europe, we need to rediscover activism. A movement is here to be bolder and more nimble than government, and one thing we can do is get people out on the streets.
“It is unbelievable that the most powerful devolved parliament in the world has to rely on a court ruling on whether to hold a consultative referendum.”
SNP equalities officer Kirsteen Fraser said the decision marked a historic moment and brought much-needed clarity.
“It’s a time when people should come together,” she said. “We’ve had a tough few years and it’s important for people to remember that this is a globally recognized movement.”
Fraser said that while she was “not a natural agitator”, Wednesday’s rallies were an opportunity to show the “diversity of our movement”.
This was echoed by Toni Giugliano, SNP’s Head of Policy Development, who said: ‘As a long-time SNP activist I have tended to prefer talking to voters on the doorstep, but at a time as important as this, it is important to be visible in the mass mobilization. .”
In his opening remarks at the October hearing, Lord Reed said it would “probably be a few months before we give our judgment”. But Wednesday marks only six weeks since that date.