Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon waves on the steps of her official residence, Bute House, in Edinburgh on May 9, 2021, following the party's victory in the Scottish parliament elections.

ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

British and Scottish politicians on Sunday played down the risk of a legal battle over whether Scotland can hold an independence referendum, but provided little clarity as to how London and Edinburgh would resolve their differences on the issue.

Pro-independence parties won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in elections held on Thursday, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this gave her a mandate to push ahead with plans for a new vote on independence once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party, which is in opposition in Scotland, strongly oppose a referendum, saying the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted against independence by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Sturgeon spoke on Sunday and agreed that their immediate focus was on “working together to build back from the pandemic,” according to a statement from Mr. Johnson’s Downing Street office that made no mention of the independence issue.

With speculation mounting that the British government would go to court to stop a referendum, senior minister Michael Gove was repeatedly asked during TV interviews on Sunday how London would handle the Scottish issue.

He refused to give any details, arguing that the Scottish people want politicians to focus on issues such as recovery from the pandemic and how to fix problems such as poor education outcomes for Scottish pupils and high drug use.

However, Mr. Gove appeared to brush away the idea of a court battle. Asked on the BBC whether the government would take Ms. Sturgeon to court to stop her from holding a referendum, he said: “No, the first thing I should say is congratulations to Nicola [on her election victory].”

Asked to confirm whether he was definitely saying “No” to legal action, Mr. Gove said: “We’re not going near there.”

Political commentators differed on whether Mr. Gove’s answers amounted to a commitment not to go to court or to dodging the question.

Ms. Sturgeon herself, appearing shortly after Mr. Gove on the same BBC program, said that regardless of his exact intended meaning it would be “absurd and completely outrageous” for the British government to take legal action to stop a referendum.

Story continues below advertisement

“For this to end up in court, which is not something I ever want to see, it would mean that a Conservative government had refused to respect the democratic wishes of the Scottish people,” she said.

Ms. Sturgeon argued that if the British government tried to use “force of law” to prevent a referendum, that would amount to saying that the 300-year-old union between England and Scotland was no longer based on consent.

“I don’t think we will get there,” she said.

Under the 1998 Scotland Act – which created the Scottish Parliament and devolved some powers from London to Edinburgh – all matters relating to the “Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England” are reserved to the U.K. parliament.

Under the act, the U.K. Parliament can grant the Scottish government the authority to hold a referendum, a process that was used to allow the 2014 plebiscite to go ahead and which Ms. Sturgeon said should unfold again for a new referendum.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

pencilscroller();
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies