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A key court case that could allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for another independence referendum will hear arguments in October, the Supreme Court has said.
Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC, referred a prospective Bill on another vote to the Supreme Court before it was introduced to ascertain if it is within the powers of Holyrood.
The court confirmed on Tuesday that it had refused an application from the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Stewart QC, which would have required both sides to file “written cases restricted to the question whether the court can or should accept the reference”.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court confirmed that arguments will be heard on October 11 and 12 – almost exactly a year ahead of the date of a proposed referendum.
However, dates are subject to change depending on court business.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last month she hopes to hold another vote on Scottish independence on October 19, 2023.
But if the court rules Holyrood does not have the required powers for a referendum, she said the next general election will be treated as a “de facto” poll.
The SNP, she said, would campaign on the single issue of independence in a bid to secure a mandate from more than 50% of the Scottish people to begin negotiations for separation.
The news comes as the Tory leadership race entered its final stage, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former chancellor Rishi Sunak vying for No 10.
Both candidates have said they would refuse a section 30 request from the Scottish Government for the necessary powers to be devolved to Holyrood that would allow for another referendum to be held – the same process that led to the first vote in 2014.
Mr Sunak told the Spectator podcast that another referendum is “not the priority” for people in Scotland, while Ms Truss, when asked if she would agree to a request under any circumstances, said: “No.”
She added: “The last referendum in 2014 was described as a once-in-a-generation referendum, we’re now in 2022 – that is not a generation ago.”
Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson said: “The Supreme Court’s confirmation that a hearing on the Lord Advocate’s reference has been listed for October 11 and 12 is welcome news.
“The Lord Advocate’s written case has been filed with the Supreme Court and will be published in due course.
“During this period, it would be inappropriate for the Scottish Government to comment any further as the matter is before the court.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We are grateful to the Supreme Court for setting a date for a hearing.
“We are preparing our written case on the preliminary points we have noted, as well as the substantive issue, and will submit in accordance with the timetable set by the Court.
“On the question of legislative competence, the UK Government’s clear view remains that a Bill legislating for a referendum on independence would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”