Scottish independence referendum: what Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak said about Supreme Court ruling

The UK’s highest court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a new referendum on independence without the permission of Westminster

Nicola Sturgeon has said “democracy is at stake” after the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence. The ruling detailed that any referendum or vote held on the issue would have to have the permission of the UK Government to take place.

The issue of Scottish independence has been long debated between the SNP and independence-leaning parties, and Westminster and unionist parties. While Sturgeon’s SNP Party has been making plans for the next vote, the sitting Conservative government has been adamant it will not grant a vote after the 2014 referendum fell in favour of the union.

The SNP announced earlier this year that it would plan to hold the next referendum on Scottish independence on 19 October 2023, and the party would seek to obtain either the section 30 order from the UK government or the legal ruling which would allow them to hold it without this being granted. At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said that her party would not hold the vote unless it could be done so legally.

Now with the Supreme Court ruling, a vote next October is looking less and less likely. Sturgeon, her party and its supporters were frustrated by the ruling. On the flip side, unionist parties and the UK government have been left relieved that the ruling has gone in their favour.

We take a look at the immediate reaction to the news, from Nicola Sturgeon to Rishi Sunak. Here’s everything you need to know.

How did Nicola Sturgeon react to the Supreme Court ruling?

Representatives for both the Scottish and UK governments made their case to the Supreme Court on whether or not the Scottish Parliament had the power to hold a vote itself. The ruling against the Scottish government was made at around 10am this morning.

Sturgeon was quick to comment on the decision, calling it “disappointing” on Twitter. She added: “A law that doesn’t allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership & makes [a] case for Indy.”

The First Minister also hinted that the SNP would not be backing down in their pursuit for a new referendum. She said: “Today’s ruling blocks one route to Scotland’s voice being heard on independence – but in a democracy our voice cannot and will not be silenced.”

Speaking to journalists in Edinburgh, she declared: “We should be in no doubt, as of today democracy is what is at stake. This is no longer about whether Scotland becomes independent, vital though that decision is. It is now more fundamental. It is now about whether or not we even have the basic democratic right to choose our own future.”

Previously, the SNP has put forward a plan for if the legal route is not available. Earlier this year, Sturgeon said that at the next General Election, the SNP would campaign on the sole issue of independence, and use this as a mandate to go to the UK government if they receive a resounding victory, a point which she reiterated at a press conference after the ruling.

She said:  “The next national election scheduled for Scotland is, of course, the UK general election. Making that both the first and the most obvious opportunity to seek what I described as a ‘de facto’ referendum.”

Nicola Sturgeon has described the Supreme Court ruling that Scotland does not have the power to hold a new referendum on independence as “disappointing”. (Credit: Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon has described the Supreme Court ruling that Scotland does not have the power to hold a new referendum on independence as “disappointing”. (Credit: Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon has described the Supreme Court ruling that Scotland does not have the power to hold a new referendum on independence as “disappointing”. (Credit: Getty Images)

However, Sturgeon has said that she is open to working with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to find a way to allow for the vote to take place without using the election as a ‘de facto referendum’. The First Minister said: “I make clear again today, therefore, that I stand ready at any time to reach agreement with the Prime Minister on an adjustment to the devolution settlement that enables a lawful, democratic referendum to take place.”

She also lambasted Westminster for not yet agreeing to a new referendum and has insisted that the SNP will not abandon its aim of independence due to the ruling. Sturgeon described the UK government as taking part in “outright democracy denial”, calling their position “unsustainable”, before adding that UK politicians are “blocking” independence for Scotland.

What did Rishi Sunak say about the Supreme Court ruling?

While the Conservative government has seen three Prime Ministers in power in under two months this year, the issue of Scottish independence remains a key unifying feature of their policy. Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak have all spoken out against granting another independence referendum and made clear their backing of the union.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, a Downing Street spokeswoman for Sunak said that the Prime Minister is seeking to avoid another referendum while he is in power. She added that Sunak was under the school of thought that the 2014 vote had been a “once-in-a-generation referendum” and that the result - which fell in favour of staying within the union by 55% to 45% - should “be respected”.

How have other parties reacted to the ruling?

Labour has jumped up in the polls to win the next General Election after a year of turmoil for the Tories. However, a new government may not necessarily mean that Sturgeon and the SNP will move closer to their goal.

A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “Our position is very clear. We don’t support there being a referendum, we’re not going to be doing deals with the SNP going into the election in any form or coming out of the election in any form.”

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, the shadow Scotland secretary, has backed the ruling, calling it “clear” and “concise”. He said:  “We are deeply disappointed and angry that the politics in Scotland is paralysed by this constitutional grievance.

“It’s now time for all of us in Scottish politics to focus on the problems facing our country, from rocketing bills to the crisis in our NHS, and I wish they had such passion for doing that. I fear that won’t happen after the First Minister has announced that she will turn the next general election into a de facto referendum.”

However, Plaid Cymru and SDLP have both noted their disappointment with the decision. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the ruling proved that the UK was “not a partnership of equals” and asked the government to set out how “the north of Ireland can leave”.

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said: “This ruling exposes the fundamentally undemocratic nature of Westminster rule. It is time for the UK Government to guarantee the right to self-determination for all the devolved nations.”