The SNP has promised a second independence referendum after winning its fourth consecutive parliamentary election in 2021, which could lead to a confrontation with Johnson. A new referendum requires the British Parliament’s approval and it seems Johnson opposes the request, because Scottish nationalists have previously acknowledged that the referendum (55% of voters in 2014 voted in favour of staying in the UK) was held once and it cannot be held again. Nicola Sturgeon, on the other hand, announced her government’s plan, saying that independence from Britain was on her agenda. The Scottish Government is now working on a detailed plan that will be presented to voters if an independence referendum mechanism is put in place. However, the British Government may have no choice but to go to court to prevent a second referendum. Under the transfer agreement, if the law passed at Holyrood changes beyond the government’s sphere of power, the British Government has four weeks to decide whether to challenge it in the Supreme Court, which is almost inevitable to overturn the law in court.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, choices fall to be made that will shape our economy and society for decades to come,” Ms Sturgeon said. Which parliament, the English “Westminster” or the Scottish “Holyrood”, should make these choices and on what principles? These are questions that cannot be avoided. “We intend to make that choice … We will only do this when the Covid crisis is over, but our goal is to hold Indyref2 before the end of 2023,” she said.
In January 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a second independence referendum. Following the vote, Sturgeon called on the British Government to hold a new independence referendum, but her request was rejected by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In his letter to Sturgeon, Johnson said he would not agree to any transfer of power and independence referendum.
There is a majority of pro-independence MPs in Scotland, but any attempt to pass the referendum bill could lead to a legal battle in the Supreme Court. In January, Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC she still insisted her government move forward without considering the issue. “This is a proposal that only a year ago, I ran in the elections and was re-elected as the first minister,” she said. “This is about democracy. It is about allowing the Scottish people to choose our future. ”
Even though Russia launched its long-feared “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine on February 24, however, Ms Sturgeon still hopes for an independence referendum next year. In an interview with LBC, the first minister was asked if the current geopolitical situation had affected her thinking about the 2023 referendum, to which she replied: “My plans and my thinking have not changed.”
Her remarks came after Westminster SNP leader Ian Blackford warned those calling for immediate progress in the second independence vote to “mind where we are” in light of other events in the world.
But when LBC reporters investigated Scotland’s second referendum timetable, Ms Sturgeon said: “Right now, more than anything else, we need to be reminded of how lucky we are to live in a free democracy, where we can make our claim to change the political constitution, discuss it enthusiastically, whatever our opinion may be, and trust people to decide. I support independence for a variety of reasons, but one of my motivations for supporting independence is to see Scotland play a larger role, albeit as a small country, in building a more peaceful world, to be a progressive and constructive international player.”
Sturgeon said Scotland should be seen as a sacred place, a country that sees the benefits that we get from people coming here and helping our community. In fact, all of these issues are now, in my view, very much in focus with the catastrophe that is happening in Ukraine.
Sturgeon’s claim that the second referendum is legal if not challenged by the British Government has raised eyebrows in Westminster. “Scottish law requires consent to a referendum,” said one Conservative source. “Just because the British Government does not challenge it, it won’t make it legal.”
The British Government is clear that the British Constitution is reserved for Westminster. Prior to the 2014 referendum, the two governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement. But this time, Ms Sturgeon is pushing the issue regardless of the demands of the British Government.
However, in reality, the British Government may have no choice but to go to court to prevent a second referendum, sources in Westminster agreed. Under the transfer agreement, if the law passed at Holyrood changes beyond the government’s sphere of power, the British Government has four weeks to decide whether to challenge it in the Supreme Court, which is almost inevitable to overturn the law in court
Scottish Minister Alister Jack said that Britain was ready to take Holyrood to court to overturn a second referendum, quoting Mr Johnson who was reportedly speaking privately.
Polls suggest the SNP is moving towards a clear majority, or at least a pro-independence majority, backed by the Greens. According to the “Roadmap to Referendum” released by the SNP Government, Sturgeon intends to pass the referendum bill and then ask Johnson to agree to Section 30, which paves the way to prepare for a second referendum. If the prime minister refuses, Sturgeon will push it, regardless of the pressure.
“The British Government has already considered what they are doing in this situation because they cannot stand in the way of the clear democratic will of the Scottish people,” Ms Sturgeon told Sky News. “That’s why the British Government is talking about vote-rigging.”
The SNP leader believes that Boris Johnson is not someone who is safe from democracy. “The argument that the people of Scotland can vote, that they can vote in the referendum, that they can vote for the SNP over and over again, but somehow the Prime Minister of Westminster can easily stop it is not sustainable. But at the same time, there may be the biggest debate about independence.”
A senior SNP official told Sky News that he believes the British Government will eventually agree to another referendum. “I think they will eventually do it by agreement because there is no clearer way to get people out of the union than to force them to stay in the courts,” he said.
The British Government thinks it will win the courts, but it also knows that a political downfall can be damaging. “Now you can see how Ms Sturgeon is handling it. The Westminster courts are ignoring the will of the Scottish people,” said one Conservative source.
The proper management of Covid-19 by Sturgeon’s government, as well as the Scotts’ perception of the Johnson government, has increased support for the second referendum. In the end, if the SNP and the Greens form a coalition, there will be more pressure on Johnson’s government to agree to a referendum, as both the Scottish Government and Parliament will be in favour of independence from Britain. The resulting political stalemate could continue until the next general election, unless there is a change in public opinion and a change in the balance of the opposition and proponents of withdrawing from the union.