The Scottish government’s case to secure a legal basis for a second independence referendum reached the UK Supreme Court last week. The two-day hearing stems from the publication in June this year by Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s government of an independence referendum bill.
The Bill sought to legislate in the Scottish Parliament for a new independence vote, to be held on October 19, 2023, nine years after the previous vote on September 18, 2014.
A maneuver by the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the bill was accompanied by an exploration by the government of the legal basis for the new referendum in the UK Supreme Court. Under section 30 of the Scottish Act 1998, powers over constitutional and other matters reserved to Westminster may be temporarily transferred to the Scottish Parliament. After the 2014 vote, organized as part of a transfer of authority under Article 30, was much closer than expected, successive UK governments have refused to transfer powers for a resumption.
Anticipating that the court will dismiss the Scottish government’s case, Sturgeon also announced the SNP’s intention to treat the next UK general election, due in 2024, as a “de facto” referendum on independence, without explaining precisely what that means.
The Supreme Court hearings summarized the arguments put forward by the current Scottish Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC and her opponent, James Eadie KC, representing the Solicitor General’s Office. The Lord Advocate is Scotland’s principal judicial officer, overseeing criminal prosecutions, advising and representing the Scottish Government in civil matters. The Solicitor General’s Office is a department of the UK Government, created under the Devolution Settlement, dealing with Scottish legal matters.
The issues before the Supreme Court are:
– Could the Supreme Court even render a verdict on the case? The Lord Advocate argued that she could not approve the Referendum Bill unless satisfied that the Bill was legally competent. The Advocate General said the case should not even be heard as the Bill should have been passed by the Scottish Parliament before going to the Supreme Court.
– Given that the UK Government opposes an order under Article 30 which would allow the Scottish Government to hold a poll, could the Scottish Government nevertheless hold a legal referendum on such a crucial constitutional issue, which should be reserved for Westminster; and even this vote should it be considered only as having only an “advisory” role? The Scottish government’s case seems to be based on the assertion that an “advisory” vote would have no constitutional impact.
Unsurprisingly, there is a broad consensus among commentators that the Scottish Government’s case will be thrown out. It is not even heard by the entire Supreme Court. Only five Supreme Court justices sit, out of a possible eleven, although these include representatives from the different legal environments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as two experts in English law. Nevertheless, the judges, who have 8,000 pages of submissions to digest, are not expected to issue a verdict for months.
Particularly since the result of the June 2016 Brexit referendum, the Sturgeon government has been looking for an opportunity to overturn the clear rejection of independence by 55-45% in 2014. Year after year, Sturgeon has made pronouncements on the another poll is imminent.
The SNP leadership, however, is keen to avoid emulating the Catalan example. In 2017, the Catalan regional government organized a referendum on Catalan secession from Spain, which was declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. Voters in the banned ballot were subjected to brutal repression by the Spanish state, and leading Catalan nationalists were hunted down and imprisoned across Europe. The SNP leadership has made its own attitude towards democratic rights clear by saying almost nothing in defense of its Catalan peers. He prioritized largely futile efforts to convince the European bourgeoisie that Scotland could secure its own place in the European Union (EU) and its single market – weakening British imperialism after Brexit – without inflaming movements separatists in Spain, Belgium and elsewhere that threaten stability. of member states.
The SNP further seeks to square the circle and maintain relations with the British government, its judicial system and its massive state and military apparatus, and access to the markets on which the Scottish economy still depends. Indeed, Sturgeon is using the bill as a way to keep the independence issue in the headlines, fending off pressure from hardline nationalists within the SNP and former SNP leader Alex Salmond and his Alba party. seeking more aggressive independence.
Salmond’s position was endorsed by Scottish pseudo-left tendencies, highlighting their role as a red-hot group for a section of the financial oligarchy.
Former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, now a member of Alba, has for years insisted that successive electoral triumphs for the SNP, in power since 2007, give the party a ‘mandate’ to immediately open negotiations for ‘independence. A statement from the Scottish Socialist Party echoed this, declaring support for the “right to indyref2” and advocating “massive mobilization of the working class and trade unions in the streets, workplaces, schools and colleges to make it happen”.
But Sturgeon and Salmond defend business interests in Scotland, including those whose access to EU markets and dependence on a steady supply of workers from Eastern Europe have been disastrously disrupted by Brexit. Scotland voted 65 to 35% against Brexit, the largest majority in the UK. The Scottish government presents independence as a means to reverse Brexit, while providing a stable platform for the intensified exploitation of the working class and the expansion of private wealth for transnational corporations seeking market access unique.
Another indication of the class interests that drive the SNP, regardless of any independence polls, is its response to the British government’s proposal for free ports, where national regulations on taxation, labour, planning and environment can be torn apart for the purpose of unrestricted profit.
The SNP aims to host two “green freeports”, where, under the guise of net zero rhetoric, this same basic model will apply. One of the candidate freeports is the North East Scotland Green Freeport, based around Aberdeen and Peterhead, centers of the oil, wind farm and carbon capture industries. Backers of the freeport include local authorities, Macquairie Group, one of the world’s largest infrastructure investors, and Scottish billionaire Sir Ian Wood, founder of global oil services giant, Wood Group PLC.
The SNP has also stepped up its efforts to present the trade case for independence. The latest in a series of government documents, “Building a New Scotland: A Stronger Economy with Independence”, was released this week. The section “What our proposals would mean for your business”, focused on increased productivity, access to the European single market and “reformed models of corporate governance which evidence shows improve productivity”.
The bill and Supreme Court case emerged amid the biggest upsurge of the working class in decades internationally, including in every corner of the UK. All factions of the Scottish bourgeoisie, the Labor and Union bureaucracy and the pseudo-left recognize the immense utility of endless arguments and counter-arguments on the “Scottish Question” to maintain political control of the working class.
This is underlined most clearly by the fact that the SNP vehemently supports the NATO war against Russia, an issue that counts for nothing when it comes to determining the nationalist orientation of the pseudo-left. Indeed, war is an issue that hardly concerns them as they pursue the chimera of “national independence”, courtesy of multinationals, the EU and NATO.
The net result is that the essential class issues of brutal and growing exploitation across Britain and the catastrophic decline of public services under the impact of inflation, war and the global crisis can be removed. and diverted.
The question facing workers in Scotland is not to end either faction of the ruling class, but to build a unified socialist movement with workers across Britain and around the world to defend the standard of living and to oppose the war.