Alex Massie Alex Massie

Another Scottish independence referendum is coming

But Sturgeon knows she won't get it next year

Despite what the SNP and its supporters insist, Nicola Sturgeon did not ‘announce’ a second referendum on independence today. Far from it. Her statement to the Scottish parliament quietly accepted that a referendum is highly unlikely to take place on 19 October next year.

The 2014 referendum – an act of self-determination that inconveniently produced the wrong outcome for the SNP – was an agreed plebiscite. All parties and Scotland’s government agreed it should take place and that its outcome would be politically, if not legally, binding. This is still the path Sturgeon would prefer.

Holding such a referendum, however, requires a section 30 order by the British government, which accepts the Scottish parliament’s right to legislate on an otherwise reserved matter. At present, there is no indication that Boris Johnson, or any plausible replacement, would contemplate that. Sturgeon may have a plausible case for demanding another referendum, but the British government has an equally compelling case for refusing it.

Any referendum bill without Westminster’s consent would be subject to a lengthy legal challenge. Accepting this, Sturgeon has asked the Lord Advocate to file papers with the Supreme Court to test the Scottish parliament’s legal competence on this matter. It is a form of getting your retaliation in first.

Would the Scottish people swallow the idea that the way round the referendum problem is to settle the issue without a referendum?

Sturgeon probably accepts that the most likely outcome of will be that the Supreme Court rules that the Scottish government’s proposed referendum impinges upon a reserved matter – the British constitution – and is consequently ultra vires: in other words, invalid.

Her strategy is therefore two-pronged. Perhaps the court will agree with her that the Scottish parliament does have the ability to legislate on this matter.

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