To be or not to be part of the UK. That is the question…
The UK Supreme Court started the process of hearing the Scottish government’s plea to hold an independence referendum earlier this month. The Scottish government wants the court to decide whether Scotland can organize a referendum without the approval of the UK government. This would not be the first time the people of Scotland have voted on the issue of independence: In 2014, a referendum in which 85% of the electorate voted, saw a 45% vote for Scottish independence and 55% vote to stay in the UK.
So why organize another referendum so soon? The SNP sees the current political climate as the perfect opportunity for a few reasons. First, they are hoping to attract the 62% of Scots that voted against Brexit. Second, they will appeal to Scots who were disappointed with the leadership of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss: according to a YouGov poll, Johnson’s net favorability score came in at -67, whilst Truss’s stands at -73. Third, COVID-19 worsened the already complicated relations between the two governments, with the Scottish government arguing that they could have done better if they had the power. As a result, the pandemic saw the Yes campaign support peak at 56%. Finally, the death of Queen Elizabeth is also likely to revive the discourse on Scottish independence due to the perceived ‘fragility’ attached to the passing of a Crown. With a poll conducted in June indicating that 44% of people would vote for independence, 46% against, and 10% are undecided, it is not clear which direction the vote would go.
What’s the UK government’s response?
In addition to arguing that a referendum without consent from the UK government is illegitimate, the former Truss government was thinking about creating a new referendum act. In the event that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Scotland, the Scottish government would have to show proof that more than 60% of voters have had the desire to hold a referendum for more than a year. Consequently, a simple majority would not be enough.
What will Rishi Sunak do?
Sunak’s remarks about the Scottish referendum have implied that he wants the union to stay in place. He argues that it would be dangerous to ignore the SNP leader, Sturgeon. In a congratulatory message to Sunak, Sturgeon emphasized that she will try to improve the two governments’ working relationship, whilst noting that Sunak is another prime minister the Scottish people did not vote for.
What would a Yes majority vote mean?
According to the Institute for Government, Scotland and the UK would have to negotiate the terms of separation. The questions would Include: how do the two countries split assets and liabilities? What will the new relationship look like? Would Scotland apply to rejoin the European Union? What trade barriers would be put in place?
The 5 judges of the supreme court are reported to have 8,000 pages of written submissions to review. As a result, it might be a while before they draw any conclusions.