Sturgeon: Scotland independence referendum would be legal unless court blocks it

Scotland's first minister says the PM is "not entitled to stand in the way of the democratic choices of the people of Scotland". Scotland votes on Thursday to elect the national parliament with the ruling party seeking a green light for a fresh referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

Scotland votes on Thursday to elect the national parliament with the ruling party seeking a green light for a fresh referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. The election for the 129 members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) to serve for the next five years has reignited the debate on whether the country of 5.5 million would be better off on its own.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hopes for a majority in the devolved parliament in Edinburgh to back her plan for a second referendum by the end of 2023, or after the pandemic. That would mean "there will be no democratic, electoral or moral justification" for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to block a referendum, Sturgeon said this week.

But opinion polls suggest the SNP may not achieve an outright majority and could seek a pro-independence coalition.

Sturgeon has thrown down the gauntlet to Boris Johnson over a second independence referendum, telling Sky News that if the UK government doesn't challenge the Scottish government in court, then "by definition it would be a legal referendum".

Scotland's first minister, who will claim the right to hold a second independence referendum by the end of 2024 should the SNP win a majority in the Scottish elections this week, said Boris Johnson was "not entitled to stand in the way of the democratic choices of the people of Scotland" and would have to take the Scottish government to court to stop her second referendum.

"I'm saying if Boris Johnson wants to stop it, he would have to take legal action," she said in an interview in Glasgow. "If Boris Johnson didn't do that [take legal action to dispute the legal basis of the referendum], by definition it would be a legal referendum. If he did do that, the courts would decide. "But actually, we're getting ahead of ourselves here because I believe that if the people of Scotland vote for this, if the support for independence continues, then it is not sustainable for any Westminster prime minister to stand in the way."

Johnson has insisted he will refuse any request for a second independence referendum, saying the matter was settled for a generation in 2014, while the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said a referendum held without the approval of Westminster would be "illegal".

Sturgeon's assertion that a second referendum would be legal if it is not challenged by the UK government has raised eyebrows in Westminster.

Fifty-five percent of Scots voted "no" to independence in 2014, which Johnson has described as a "once in a generation" poll.  A Savanta ComRes survey this week indicated 49 percent of Scots would vote "no" in an immediate referendum and 42 percent "yes". Supporters of "indyref2" argue Brexit has radically changed the situation, with Scotland's fishing and farming sectors hard-hit. They also cite Sturgeon's strong leadership during the pandemic.

The SNP says independence will create a "fairer, more prosperous nation" and wants independent Scotland to rejoin the European Union. But parties that want to stay in the UK fear another vote would hurt post-pandemic recovery.

The main opposition Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross told AFP another independence referendum would be a "distraction". His Scottish Labour counterpart Anas Sarwar said Scotland needs "politicians who want to unite us as a country, not divide us" while some voters questioned the timing.

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