April 19, 2024


The Legal System

What is the ‘purpose’ of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill? – UK Constitutional Law Association

What is the ‘purpose’ of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill? – UK Constitutional Law Association

What is the reason of the referendum proposed in the Scottish Independence Referendum Monthly bill? Is it, as s 1 (1) of the Invoice alone claims ‘to confirm the views of the people today of Scotland?’ Or is the purpose – possibly straight or indirectly – the dissolution of the United Kingdom? If the objective is only to ascertain the views of Scots, the Lord Advocate suggests, then it cannot effects reserved issues. Her suggestion is that the referendum are not able to affect reserved issues mainly because the referendum is merely advisory, and so it can have no authorized impact if it has no legal effect. This article argues that it is proper to construe the function of the Bill narrowly, as only ascertaining the sights of Scots. Even the slim reason of ascertaining the views of Scots, nonetheless, still relates to reserved issues. To see why, it is required to distinguish between the final result of a referendum, and the effect of putting a problem to a referendum. Whilst it is proper to say that the final result of an advisory referendum does not mechanically have authorized affect, it does not abide by that holding a referendum has no outcome. So, even if the function of this referendum is only to ascertain the sights of Scots, legislating for the objective of inquiring that dilemma is further than the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. 

This put up has three areas. It begins by conveying the context of the Referendums Invoice. This segment is quick because most of this ground has by now been lined in outstanding modern posts here, here, and here. The next segment clarifies why it is appropriate to construe the intent of the Bill narrowly, but the 3rd and final section argues that the reason of an advisory referendum to ascertain the sights of Scots nevertheless relates to reserved matters.

What is the Purpose of the Scottish Independence Referendum Monthly bill?

S 2(2) of the Scottish Independence Referendum Monthly bill holds that the following Scottish independence referendum dilemma will be: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The forthcoming reference to the Supreme Courtroom asks if putting this dilemma to a referendum relates to any of the reserved issues identified in Program 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, specifically the Parliament of the United Kingdom (1c) and the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England (1b). If it does relate to these matters, then s 29(2)(b) of the Scotland Act suggests that keeping these a referendum is exterior the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

In answering the issue of no matter if a subject ‘relates’ to a reserved make any difference, s 29(3) of the Scotland Act 1998 retains that ‘the issue of irrespective of whether a provision of the Scottish Parliament relates to a reserved make any difference is to be determined…by reference to the intent of the provision, owning regard (amid other matters) to its outcome in all the conditions.’ Reason ‘may extend outside of its legal outcome, but is not synonymous with determination.’ Legal Continuity (Scotland) Monthly bill [27]. To fulfill this need, the marriage to reserved matters should by additional than ‘loose or consequential’ Continuity (Scotland) Invoice [27]. Ascertaining the purpose of the Bill, as Stephen Tierney rightly argues, requires distinguishing amongst various types of referendums.  

Advisory and Self-Executing Referendums

Distinctive sorts of referendums have been held in the United Kingdom. Some are advisory, exactly where the legal consequence is inchoate, and some are self-executing, exactly where the lawful consequence is distinct. Unlike other jurisdictions such a Australia the United Kingdom does not distinguish involving advisory and binding referendums. This generates a circumstance wherever, as Stephen Tierney effectively argues, there is a constitutional convention that referendums will have legal influence, but, as he all over again rightly argues, Miller I held that the final result of the advisory referendum enabled by the European Union Referendum Act 2015 experienced no automated lawful effect, albeit excellent ‘political significance’ [124].

The Lord Advocate indicates that the advisory character of the referendum proposed by the Scottish Independence Referendums Monthly bill suggests it simply cannot relate to reserved issues: it are not able to have lawful result if it does not have legal effects. The Advocate Common pushes back again on this claim, arguing that the effect of holding a referendum is hardly tutorial: 

…it is, of class, ideal that the final result of the referendum offered for by the Draft Monthly bill has no authorized effect: it is not ‘self-executing’. But nor can it credibly be instructed that the outcome of the referendum will be ‘advisory’ in the feeling of getting taken care of as a matter of educational desire only: a referendum is not, and is not created to be, an work out in mere summary belief polling at considerable public price. Were being the end result to favour independence, it would be applied (and no doubt utilised by the SNP as the central plank) to seek to construct momentum towards attaining that stop: the termination of the Union.

This reply from the Advocate Normal also speaks to the drive of the Scottish Parliament in legislating for the referendum, which is taken to be the dissolution of the Union. There are of course quite fantastic contextual causes for pondering this is the circumstance presented the SNP’s legislative programme. The assert that the purpose of the Invoice is the dissolution of the United Kingdom speaks, having said that, to its inspiration, which is distinct from, and inadequate to, setting up purpose. The ultimate portion of this submit argues that even if the purpose of the Bill is construed narrowly, as ascertaining the sights of Scots, this however relates to the reserved subject of the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England and is for that reason beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Construing Intent Narrowly

Even though there are superior contextual reasons to imagine the objective of the Scottish Referendum Invoice is the dissolution of the United Kingdom, it is greater to choose the Monthly bill at experience value as only ascertaining the views of Scots. The important to pinpointing objective, in accordance to Bloomsbury International Ltd. v Department for Surroundings Meals and Rural Affairs [10-11] should really be the wording of the statute. The query then, of training course, is how slender or broadly to construe the intent. Could the reason be, for instance, to create the democratic ideal of the Scottish people to determine this problem, specially presented the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament as recognized by the Scotland Act? Or perhaps the reason is to implement democracy, offered the repeated refusals of the United kingdom Federal government to grant a part 30 order?

Provided the Bill alone identifies its function, the very best tactic is to choose it as narrowly as achievable: only to determine what Scots consider about the dilemma of independence. It is harmful to the devolution settlement to unnecessarily ascribe broad motivations to the Invoice. In any occasion, even placing the question to a referendum is outdoors the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence.

Ascertainment as Impacting Reserved Issues

It is handy to distinguish amongst two details at which keeping a referendum could relate to reserved issues. The outcomeof a referendum, in the form of tens of millions of votes, may well have lawful influence but the pretty decision to hold a referendum – even an advisory referendum – relates to the reserved matter of the Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland as properly. Even asking these kinds of a dilemma has far more than a ‘loose or consequential’ romantic relationship to a reserved make any difference. This is the circumstance even however keeping a referendum is not, in typical, a reserved make a difference. To see why, envision two other situations wherever the influence of asking a problem is diverse from the effects of selecting. 

Picture I have a mortgage loan with a bank for 25 years. Suppose the mortgage says it are not able to be terminated without having the bank’s acceptance. Think about I place the question to my pals: ‘should I terminate my mortgage?’ The outcome of inquiring this question, and having answers from my mates, has much more than a ‘loose and consequential’ connection with my property finance loan: that is what I am inquiring my mates about. Even though my friends’ responses have no effects on the home finance loan, and even although I cannot terminate the mortgage loan unilaterally, that does not suggest their sights have no result on a decision about the house loan. 

A second example of this variety is found in the Advocate General’s submissions. It is argued there that Scotland could not maintain a referendum on other reserved matters, these as the monarchy. This is a beneficial instance mainly because it would be attainable to devise an advisory referendum which would have no influence on ending the monarchy in Scotland, but that does not mean such a referendum would not be connected to that make any difference or would have no effect on it. Even asking that question has result, as it would in the case of the Scottish Independence Invoice, by triggering the appropriate provisions of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020. Contacting a referendum initiates legal machinery which places a reserved issue to voters. Even though the final result of this kind of a referendum may well not have a direct and shut connection with ending the monarchy in Scotland, that is not the relevant problem. The far better issues are these: does this hypothetical referendum have the goal of inquiring about ending the monarchy? And is the issue of monarchy reserved? Presented the solutions to these inquiries are of course, and certainly, such a Invoice should be past the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The exact is true of the Scottish Independence Referendum Invoice. 

The Advocate Common indicates at [115] of her penned circumstance that the wording of the Scotland Act implies that, in identifying the reason of a provision, the concern of topic matter is secondary to the issue of impact. Remember, s 29(3) says ‘the issue of regardless of whether a provision of the Scottish Parliament relates to a reserved matter is to be determined…by reference to the objective of the provision, acquiring regard (amongst other items) to its effect in all the instances.’ Although it is accurate that the statute does not point out or foreground ‘subject make any difference,’ the statute is written to be as expansive as feasible allowing regard for ‘among other things’ in ‘all circumstances.’ Asking a concern which so squarely worries a reserved make any difference is adequate to fulfill to fulfill the open-ended prerequisites of s 29(3), particularly when asking these types of a concern does have an effect anyway. Plan 5 alone refers to reserved issues, not to the impact of reserved matters. 


This post has argued that holding a referendum to check with a dilemma about a reserved make a difference has an influence on that make a difference, even if the referendum’s end result has no direct or indirect impression on it. Effect and impact are not synonymous. Asking a problem has an outcome in two means. Initial, it has the legal result of initiating the machinery to maintain a referendum. 2nd, and much more importantly, on the subject matter matter by itself. Asking Scots what they consider about the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England has additional than a free or consequential link to the reserved subject of the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. The reserved matter is the concern being asked. 

I am grateful to Alison Youthful and Mike Gordon for incredibly practical reviews on an previously draft of this piece. 

Leah Trueblood is Profession Enhancement Fellow in Public Regulation at Worcester Faculty, Oxford.

(Suggested citation: L. Trueblood, ‘What is the ‘Purpose’ of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill?’, U.K. Const. L. Blog site (11th Oct 2022) (accessible at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/))