Sturgeon 'Very Disappointed' by Supreme Court Referendum Ruling

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the UK’s next general election will be a “de facto referendum” on Scottish independence, following a Supreme Court ruling on November 23 that a vote cannot be held without Westminster’s consent.

The Scottish National Party leader, speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh, said she was “very disappointed” by the ruling.

“We must and we will find another democratic, lawful, and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will,” she said.

Sturgeon said achieving independence is “not just desirable, it is essential.”

The Scottish National Party will hold a special conference in the new year, according to Sturgeon, to “discuss and agree the detail of a proposed de facto referendum.”

The next general election is scheduled for 2024. Credit: Scottish National Party via Storyful

Video transcript

- As you may have heard earlier this morning, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the Lord Advocate's reference seeking clarity on whether or not the Scotland Act 1998 allows the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence. First of all, while I am obviously very disappointed by it, I do respect and accept the judgment of the court.

In securing Scotland's independence, we will always be guided by a commitment to democracy and respect for the rule of law. That is, a principle an important principle, but of course, it also reflects a practical reality. The route we take must be lawful and democratic for independence to be achieved. And as is becoming clearer by the day, achieving independence is not no just desirable, it is essential if Scotland is to skip the disaster of Brexit, the damage of policies imposed by governments we do not vote for, and the low growth high inequality economic model that is holding us back.

However, we must be clear today that the Supreme Court does not make the law, it interprets and applies the law. If the devolution settlement in the Scotland Act is inconsistent with any reasonable notion of Scottish democracy as now seems to be the case, that is the fault of Westminster lawmakers, not the justices of the Supreme Court.

In addressing the implications of today's ruling, it's also important to be mindful of what the court was not asked to decide, and therefore, what the ruling does not tell us. The court was not asked to decide if there is a democratic mandate for a referendum. The mandate and the parliamentary majority for the referendum is quite simply undeniable.

Nor was the court asked if Scotland should be independent. Only the Scottish people can be the judge of that. And it was not asked if there is any democratic means by which Scotland can choose independence. The question the court was asked to decide-- indeed, the only question the court could reasonably answer was a narrower one. Will a bill providing for an advisory referendum or independence be within the current powers of the Scottish Parliament?

In other words, can the Scottish Parliament legislate for an independence referendum without the prior agreement of Westminster? Now, as we know, the court has answered that question in the negative. It has determined that under the Scotland Act 1998, which of course encapsulates the current devolution settlement, even an advisory referendum asking the question, should Scotland be an independent country is a matter reserved to the Westminster Parliament.

What that means is that without an agreement between the Scottish and UK governments for either a Section 30 order or a UK act of Parliament to change its powers, the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for the referendum that the people of Scotland have instructed it to deliver. That is a hard pill for any supporter of independence, and surely indeed for any supporter of democracy to swallow.

However, as I said back in June when I informed parliament that the Lord Advocate had agreed to make this reference, it was always the case that in the absence of an agreement with the UK government, the question of the Scottish parliament's competence in relation to a referendum would end up in the Supreme Court.

If not before legislation, then certainly after any decision by parliament to pass a bill. So while it is-- I think, a statement of the obvious that this is not the outcome I hoped for, it does give us clarity. And having that clarity sooner rather than later allows us now to plan a way forward, however imperfect that might be.