Scotland’s leader is targeting a new independence vote in October 2023

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LONDON — Scotland’s most senior politician, Nicola Sturgeon, on Tuesday proposed holding a new referendum on Scottish independence in October 2023, through a maneuver she hopes can sidestep Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s refusal to hold such a vote allow.

Sturgeon, leader of the semi-autonomous Scottish government and the Scottish National Party, made the case for the new referendum when she addressed Parliament in Edinburgh. She revealed the question to be asked on the ballot: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The question was answered with cheers and applause.

Sturgeon stressed the importance of a “legal” referendum with an internationally recognized result. Almost eight years after voters rejected the same independence question, she said she would Write to Johnson ask for permission to vote again. Assuming he refuses – Johnson has long said a second referendum will not take place under his supervision – then Sturgeon said she would go ahead by referring provisions of a referendum law to the UK’s highest court.

“What I am not willing, what I will never do, is to allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any other Prime Minister,” she said.

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There is some debate in legal circles about Scotland’s power to hold its own vote without permission from the UK Government. Sturgeon has long signaled that Scotland will not go down the path that the Catalonia region of Spain has taken – holding a referendum without the backing of the Spanish government.

Sturgeon said Scotland’s chief justice will ask the Supreme Court on Tuesday whether Scotland has the power to hold a consultative referendum without first getting the green light from the British Prime Minister.

Skeptics believe it is unlikely that the court will rule in their favour. David Torrance, a constitutional expert at the Library of the House of Commons, wrote in a blog post that the prevailing legal view is that holding the vote would be outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The role of the UK Supreme Court is much narrower than that of the US Supreme Court. Experts say it would examine the Scotland Act 1988, which established the Scottish Parliament, and subsequent case-law to decide whether referendum legislation falls within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. Scottish history or political arguments played no part.

Alex Massie, the magazine’s Scotland editor, wrote in The Spectator that Sturgeon’s statement “tacitly accepted that a referendum on October 19 next year is highly unlikely”. Instead, “Sturgeon hopes to use Westminster and the stubborn judiciary as leverage to push harder for independence.”

For its part, the British government has said that “now is not the time” for another referendum. The matter was settled in 2014 when the Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against independence.

Sturgeon says a lot has changed in recent years, including Britain’s exit from the European Union. The majority of Scots voted to remain in the bloc.

And she says she has a “clear mandate” to hold a second referendum because a majority in the Scottish Parliament supports independence. However, your side has no guarantee of winning a vote. Support for Scottish independence and unionism remains split down the middle.

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Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, suggested his party would not take part in a new referendum. “We will not take a fake survey when there is real work to be done.” he said.

Should the Supreme Court rule against her, Sturgeon said her party would fight on the only issue of independence in the next UK general election.

Scotland’s independence issue could be part of the arithmetic in the next UK general election, analysts say. The election is scheduled for January 2025, but could be scheduled earlier. Recent polls suggest that neither party would win outright if the election were held today – which would force negotiations to form a government. Support for the Scottish National Party could be conditional on a promise to hold a second referendum.

Sturgeon said she hopes her plans will “give the people of Scotland the right to choose”. But if that is not possible, the next parliamentary election “will be a de facto referendum,” she noted.

“In any case, the people of Scotland will have their say,” she said.