EDINBURGH, United Kingdom, Jan 25 – The Supreme Court’s Brexit ruling has hit pro-EU Scotland hard by denying it the legal right to have a say on leaving the bloc and pushing it further towards making a new bid for independence.
The court ruled on Tuesday that British Prime Minister Theresa May had to seek approval from parliament to start the divorce process but did not need the support of lawmakers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacted angrily to the judgement, saying that Scotland was “simply not being heard”, but political analysts say the path to a new independence referendum is far from easy.
“Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster government… or is it better that we take our future into our own hands?” the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) said in a statement.
“It is becoming ever clearer that this a choice that Scotland must make,” said Sturgeon, who has held back for months from pushing for independence despite the referendum in June in which a majority in Scotland voted to remain part of the European Union although overall 52 percent of Britons voted to leave.
Aggravatingly for semi-autonomous Scotland, the Supreme Court ruling spelled out that a convention under which Scotland cannot have legislation foisted on it by the national government was not legally binding.
It clears the way for London to trigger the Brexit process within weeks without Scotland’s consent even as Sturgeon demands a special status that would allow it to stay in the EU’s single market while the rest of Britain leaves.
“What happens when a constitutional convention is violated is you get a constitutional crisis,” Professor Michael Keating, director of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre on Constitutional Change, told AFP.
An independence referendum in 2014 resulted in a 55-percent majority in favour of staying part of Britain and opinion polls show a majority of Scots still want to remain.
Sturgeon would also need the go-ahead from the British parliament in London to hold a new independence vote.
‘Damaging uncertainty’ for economy’
David Mundell, the British government’s top representative in Scotland, underlined the importance of staying part of Britain for trade opportunities.
“We know the Scottish government’s constant talk of a second independence referendum is creating damaging uncertainty for the Scottish economy,” he said.
“If Scotland pulls out of the British union to remain in the European single market, it could face trade barriers with its closest neighbours if the EU imposes punitive measures on Brexit Britain.”
But the bitterness in Scotland is rising fast.
In the run-up to the 2014 referendum, Scotland was offered extensive new powers in exchange for voting against independence with a joint statement by national political leaders dubbed “The Vow”.
A key pillar of the British promise was a legal clause opaquely known as the Sewel Convention or Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) declaring that London will not normally force laws on Scotland.
Mark Shephard, a politics lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, said ignoring this convention raised “the question of democratic legitimacy in Scotland, arguably the SNP’s strongest card for Indyref2”.
Professor Murray Pittock at the University of Glasgow told AFP said that the ruling “can only increase the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to move towards a second independence referendum”.
May is pushing Sturgeon “into a corner where she has to call Indyref2,” Pittock said.
Sturgeon’s Brexit negotiator Mike Russell said the Supreme Court ruling exposed the devolution settlement as “meaningless and worthless”.
Russell said British lawmakers are “forcing this issue to a crisis” by disregarding the will of the Scottish people -— who overwhelmingly rejected Brexit by 62 percent.
“There is a growing realisation that the promises made during the 2014 independence referendum were only promises, they had no validity,” he told the BBC.
“There was a promise that ‘the only way to stay in the EU was to vote for independence’. It’s turned out to be the opposite.
“There was a promise that Scotland would be ‘a full and equal partner’ and would be ‘the most powerful devolved assembly or parliament in the world’.
“It is simply not true, and when people keep telling you things that aren’t true you lose all trust in them.”