No, the Supreme Court’s decision on a Scottish Independence referendum did not mark the death of democracy.

Photo by Adrien Olichon on

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to call another referendum on independence. Obviously, the SNP and their supporters are upset and disappointed by this. They have every right to campaign for independence and wanted the opportunity for a new vote. I’m not sure that they’ve got reason to be surprised though. The Law was pretty clear beforehand that the power to call such a referendum lay with Westminister.

Quite a few nationalists have been denouncing the decision as in some way signaling the death of democracy. I would gently suggest the opposite. Whatever your views on Scottish independence and I suspect my readers will split between passionate opinions, on both sides of the debate through to having no opinion at all, the court decision is not an attack on democracy.

The judgement simply confirmed the constitutional settlement which is based on an act of parliament, a position that has been confirmed by two referendum results (the one supporting devolution and the one rejecting independence).

The challenge to democracy comes not from the court ruling but from those who for their own political self-interest focus on stoking resentment. The challenge comes from those who choose not to respect referendum results and who think that laws are there for you to find a way around or ignore completely (and such politicians exist across the spectrum). It also comes from those who seek to turn General Election campaigns into single issue ones.

The challenge also comes from those who whenever there is a decision from a court that they disagree with, resort to attacking the court itself and seeking to undermine its legitimacy through intemperate language. This is a particularly dangerous road to go down because true and healthy democracy is not just about enacting the popular will. It’s also about living in a country where the rule of law is followed. Otherwise you simply end up with elected dictatorship.

Personally, I have unionist leanings, reflecting that I identify more as British than English due to my heritage including grandparents and other ancestors from other parts of the UK as well as further afield. However, I also recognise that at some point in the future one or all of the constituent members of the UK could choose to go their own way. However, if and when such a time comes, then the decision needs to happen in line with democratic and constitutional principles, respecting the rule of law.

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