Johnson rejects Sturgeon request for Scottish independence referendum

Boris Johnson has ruled out giving Scotland’s first minister the authority to hold another independence referendum, paving the way for the UK Supreme Court to determine the devolved government’s legal right to a plebiscite.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday, the prime minister reiterated his government’s stance that the question had been settled in 2014 when Scots voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent to stay in the 315-year union with England.

“As our country faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, I cannot agree that now is a time to revisit a question, which was clearly answered by the people of Scotland in 2014,” he wrote, laying out why he would not grant her request for a so-called Section 30 order that would allow the Scottish government to legally hold such a vote.

Matters dealing with the union are reserved to Westminster, according to legislation governing devolution. In 2014, the Scottish government, then led by Alex Salmond, was able to hold a plebiscite after former prime minister David Cameron agreed to a vote.

Johnson, like his predecessor Theresa May, has consistently refused to do the same.

The prime minister has argued that the 2014 vote was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation event, and has also said that another referendum is not a priority for Scottish voters concerned with the cost of living crisis, education and health standards, and lately the war in Ukraine.

In his letter, that was a response to a letter to him from Sturgeon on June 28, Johnson said voters expected the governments to co-operate on such issues. He said this was highlighted in a “productive” conversation he had with Sturgeon on Monday. “On all fronts, we stand to achieve so much more for the people we serve by continuing to work together as partners,” he wrote.

Sturgeon, who last week outlined a way to hold a referendum without the approval of the UK government in 2023, said on Twitter in response to Johnson that “Scottish democracy will not be a prisoner of this or any” prime minister.

She has argued that her Scottish National party’s victory in the May 2021 elections to the Scottish parliament, where it has a co-operation agreement with the Greens, meant there was an “indisputable” mandate for a second referendum.

Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament on June 28 that she had asked Scotland’s most senior government law officer, lord advocate Dorothy Bain, to refer draft legislation for a “consultative” referendum to the UK Supreme Court, to establish if it was within her government’s authority to hold such a vote, having conceded that this point was contested.

If the court rules against her, then she would treat the UK general election expected in 2024 as a “de facto” referendum with the SNP standing on the single issue of whether Scotland should become an independent country. On Twitter, she said “Scotland will have the opportunity to choose independence”, either through a referendum in 2023 or a general election.

This week, the devolved government released the letter that Bain wrote to the Supreme Court in which she said she did not have “the necessary degree of confidence” that Scotland’s parliament had the legal right to hold even a “consultative” referendum.

Opposition parties seized on this as sign that Bain disagreed with Sturgeon though the language in the letter was neutral.


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