The decision by the UK supreme court on Wednesday, 23 November has significant implications for the future of the United Kingdom. Despite the clarity of the ruling, the path ahead for Scotland and its place within the UK is unclear.

What did the UK supreme court decide?

Dorothy Bain KC, the Lord Advocate for the Scottish government, referred the question as to whether Holyrood has the legal powers to hold an independence referendum within its devolved powers to the UK supreme court. This is because there has been no agreement between the UK government and the Scottish government to hold a referendum – it was through the Edinburgh Agreement that the 2014 Independence Referendum was able to be held.

The UK supreme court has decided that Scotland doesn’t have the legal powers to do so. As a result, first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has proposed that the SNP stand in the next UK general election on the single issue of independence in a de facto referendum”. The Scottish Green Party, the SNP’s partners in government in Scotland, have indicated support for this position. It remains to be seen what the outcome of this strategy would be.


How did we get here?

Following the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 (signed by the UK government and the Scottish government), the Scottish government was granted a Section 30 Order” under the Scotland Act 1998, allowing Holyrood to temporarily hold powers which are reserved to Westminster – and therefore hold the Independence Referendum in 2014. The SNP proposed that they had a mandate to hold an independence referendum following the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, when they won 45.4% of the constituency vote and 44.0% of the regional vote and won an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament.

The question was, should Scotland be an independent country?” 55.3% voted No” and 44.7% voted Yes”, with an 84.6% turnout.

Following the Referendum, the SNP won 56 of 59 seats in Scotland in the 2015 General Election (50.0% of the vote), with Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all winning one seat each (all three parties are in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK).

In the previous election in 2010, the SNP won 6 of 59 seats (19.9% of the vote). In 2017, the SNP won 35 of 59 seats (36.9% of the vote) and in 2019, the SNP won 48 of 59 seats (45.0% of the vote). This increased support for the SNP is part of their argument for why there should be a second independence referendum.

This has followed a similar trajectory in the Scottish parliament elections. The SNP has won every Scottish parliament election since 2007. The Scottish Green Party also support Scottish independence, and in the 2021 Scottish parliament election they won enough seats combined to make a pro-independence majority of MSPs representing Scotland in the parliament.

The Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats combined make up a large pro-union minority within the parliament representing Scotland, and all are against the Scottish government’s plans to have a second independence referendum.

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A key argument made by the SNP as to why there should be a second independence referendum is around Brexit. In the 2016 EU Referendum, 62.0% in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, with 38.0% voting to leave; the UK result was 51.9% voting to leave and 48.1% voting to remain.

The SNP ran in the 2021 Scottish parliament election on the manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum within the five-year parliamentary term, as did the Scottish Green Party. The SNP and the Scottish Green Party agreed to be partners together running the Scottish Government, and in June 2022 in the Scottish Parliament the first minister proposed the 19 October 2023 as the date for a future referendum. The UK supreme court received the case referral that day from the Lord Advocate.

The UK government has held to the position that the 2014 vote was a once-in-a-generation referendum, and therefore won’t agree to have formal negotiations with the Scottish Government on holding a second independence referendum.

Why is Independence a priority for the Scottish government?

The SNP have formed every Scottish government since 2007, with the Scottish Greens also holding ministerial positions from 2021 as part of the Bute House Agreement. As both parties stand for election on the basis of supporting independence, the Scottish government therefore holds this policy position.

Building a New Scotland

Building a New Scotland are a series of papers that the Scottish government has published since the summer, focussing on different issues to inform voters before a future independence referendum:

The Scottish government has also proposed that Scotland should become a member state of the European Union as an independent country. Opposition parties have criticised the work, arguing that the Scottish government should focus on improving the NHS and dealing with the cost of living crisis.

What does this all mean for us?

The Evangelical Alliance does not hold a position on Scottish independence. In 2014, we published What Kind of Nation? which proposed policy recommendations across four key pillars of Scottish society – the economy, the family, civil society and the environment – for a future Scotland regardless of whether it is independent or part of the UK.

We will be working to support our members to become sanctuaries of unity – places where different views are held, proposed and debated, without any existence of tribalism, superiority or judgement.

Unity is a fundamental part of why we exist as the Evangelical Alliance because it is a fundamental part of God’s plan for us as His creation – regardless of our views on Scottish independence. And so, we encourage you to pray for those who live in Scotland and for the Scottish government.