The intense discussion over Scotland’s future reaches another major milestone.
Politicians on both sides of Scotland Independence debate is eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s judgment on whether the Scottish parliament has the power to legislate for a second referendum without Westminster’s approval.
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Five judges – who have spent the last month sifting through 8,000 pages of legal arguments – are due to deliver their decision at 9.45am today.
There are four possible outcomes.
Scottish government wins
If the Scottish government wins, campaigners say it would essentially trigger the start of a referendum campaign.
It would allow Nicholas Sturgeon to table the Referendum Bill in the Scottish Parliament, where it would pass because the majority of MSPs are supporters of independence.
An emboldened prime minister would demand further talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to seek the “gold standard” deal similar to 2014.
It is likely that these discussions would be tense.
The British government wins
The second scenario is that the court sides with the UK government and rules consent is needed at Westminster to hold a referendum again.
Downing Street would feel its stance has been vindicated, but Ms Sturgeon is likely to argue it is an attack on democracy and ‘proves’ Scotland is ‘trapped in an unequal union’.
The First Minister has made it clear that she will use the next general election on the sole question of whether Scotland should become independent.
His ministers say it would be a “de facto” referendum; their opponents say they will boycott such a scenario.
The court makes no decision
Another possible outcome is that the court decides that it is unable to rule on a referendum created by Holyrood because the planned legislation is still in draft form.
The court gives an opinion – even premature
And while UK government lawyers have urged judges to refrain from ruling on what-if scenarios, they may decide to offer a point of view to clear things up once and for all.
How did we come here?
As the 2014 Scottish referendum approached, former Prime Minister Alex Salmond and then Prime Minister David Cameron signed a formal agreement to allow the vote.
The end result was that Scotland voted to stay in the UK.
Since then, Ms Sturgeon’s SNP government has won every Scottish election and written a referendum pledge into every manifesto.
Ms Sturgeon argued, among other things, that Scotland had been ‘dragged’ out of the EU despite voting to stay.
She insists her party has a mandate to test the electorate on the issue of independence on October 19, 2023.
However, this time the Conservative government in Westminster does not agree to a second vote.
Successive Prime Ministers have said the 2014 vote was decisive and that the SNP should instead focus on addressing national challenges in education and health services.
Why this decision is important
There has been a standoff between Holyrood and London for years.
The political stalemate landed in the Supreme Court in October, where the Scottish government demanded clarification about holding a vote in Edinburgh without London’s consent.
He argued that any referendum would be “fully consultative” without “legal consequences”.
UK government lawyers insisted it was clear Holyrood did not hold the power for a second vote and urged the judges to throw the case out.
They argued that it would be “premature” to rule on something that is just a bill at this stage.
The role of the Supreme Court is to look at the issue only from a legal point of view.
The importance of this decision cannot be underestimated, as almost all day-to-day issues in Scotland are seen through the prism of the constitution.
It is arguably the biggest political elephant in the room, dwelling on the national debate.
Almost every poll suggests Scots are split over the country’s future, and it’s unclear whether this judgment will help settle the matter.