By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Supreme Court is due to rule Wednesday whether Scotland can hold a vote on independence without the consent of the UK government, a case with huge implications for Britain’s future.
The semi-autonomous Scottish government has asked the high court to decide whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate for a referendum next October on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The UK Conservative government in London is refusing to approve a vote, saying the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum in which Scottish voters rejected independence by a 55-45% margin.
However, the independence government in Edinburgh wants to review the decision, arguing that Britain’s exit from the European Union, which was opposed by a majority of Scottish voters, has radically changed the political and economic landscape.
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argues she has a democratic mandate from the Scottish people to hold a new secession vote because there is a majority supporting independence in the Scottish Parliament.
During High Court hearings last month, Dorothy Bain, the Scottish government’s top legal officer, said most Scottish lawmakers had been elected with a commitment to hold a new independence referendum. She also said a referendum would be advisory, rather than legally binding, although a “yes” vote would create strong momentum for Scotland to secede.
UK government lawyer James Eadie argued that the power to hold a referendum rests with the UK Parliament in London, because “it is of vital importance to the UK as a whole”, not just Scotland.
Polls suggest Scots are evenly divided on independence, and also that most voters don’t want a new referendum any time soon.
The five High Court justices deciding the case could rule that Scotland has the authority to hold a referendum, or that it does not, or they could simply refuse to govern.
Scottish legal expert Andrew Tickell said that “even if the Scottish government wins this and has a chance to pass a law… this is not the end of the story.”
Independence supporters plan to demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and elsewhere after the verdict, whatever the outcome.
Scotland and England have been politically united since 1707. Scotland has had its own parliament and government since 1999 and makes its own policies on public health, education and other matters. The UK-wide government in London controls matters such as defense and tax policy.
Sturgeon says that if his government loses its case, it will make the UK’s next national election a de facto plebiscite to end Scotland’s three-century union with England. She hasn’t given details of how that would work.
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