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 objective of the referendum proposed in the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill? Is it, as s 1 (1) of the Invoice alone claims ‘to verify the views of the folks of Scotland?’ Or is the purpose – either straight or indirectly – the dissolution of the United Kingdom? If the reason is only to verify the views of Scots, the Lord Advocate suggests, then it are unable to impression reserved matters. Her recommendation is that the referendum can not impression reserved issues mainly because the referendum is basically advisory, and so it can have no legal outcome if it has no legal influence. This put up argues that it is correct to construe the function of the Monthly bill narrowly, as only ascertaining the sights of Scots. Even the slender objective of ascertaining the sights of Scots, even so, nevertheless relates to reserved matters. To see why, it is essential to distinguish between the end result of a referendum, and the effect of putting a concern to a referendum. While it is correct to say that the result of an advisory referendum does not mechanically have authorized impact, it does not observe that keeping a referendum has no influence. So, even if the goal of this referendum is only to verify the sights of Scots, legislating for the goal of inquiring that problem is outside of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. 

This submit has three sections. It begins by detailing the context of the Referendums Invoice. This segment is short due to the fact most of this ground has by now been coated in fantastic new posts here, here, and here. The second area points out why it is proper to construe the goal of the Bill narrowly, but the third and closing area argues that the objective of an advisory referendum to determine the views of Scots continue to relates to reserved issues.

What is the Reason of the Scottish Independence Referendum Invoice?

S 2(2) of the Scottish Independence Referendum Monthly bill retains that the upcoming Scottish independence referendum problem will be: ‘Should Scotland be an unbiased region?’ The forthcoming reference to the Supreme Courtroom asks if placing this problem to a referendum relates to any of the reserved matters determined in Schedule 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 states that keeping this sort of a referendum is outdoors the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

In answering the question of whether or not a issue ‘relates’ to a reserved subject, s 29(3) of the Scotland Act 1998 holds that ‘the question of whether or not a provision of the Scottish Parliament relates to a reserved subject is to be determined…by reference to the goal of the provision, owning regard (among the other factors) to its outcome in all the situation.’ Purpose ‘may extend further than its legal effect, but is not synonymous with motivation.’ Authorized Continuity (Scotland) Invoice [27]. To satisfy this need, the relationship to reserved issues must by extra than ‘loose or consequential’ Continuity (Scotland) Bill [27]. Ascertaining the reason of the Invoice, as Stephen Tierney rightly argues, involves distinguishing concerning various forms of referendums.  

Advisory and Self-Executing Referendums

Unique sorts of referendums have been held in the United Kingdom. Some are advisory, exactly where the authorized end result is inchoate, and some are self-executing, the place the legal end result is distinct. Unlike other jurisdictions these kinds of a Australia the United Kingdom does not distinguish in between advisory and binding referendums. This generates a scenario exactly where, as Stephen Tierney appropriately argues, there is a constitutional conference that referendums will have authorized result, but, as he again rightly argues, Miller I held that the consequence of the advisory referendum enabled by the European Union Referendum Act 2015 had no automatic lawful effects, albeit great ‘political significance’ [124].

The Lord Advocate implies that the advisory character of the referendum proposed by the Scottish Independence Referendums Monthly bill signifies it can not relate to reserved issues: it are not able to have authorized result if it does not have lawful impression. The Advocate Typical pushes back on this claim, arguing that the influence of holding a referendum is rarely academic: 

…it is, of training course, suitable that the final result of the referendum delivered for by the Draft Invoice has no authorized influence: it is not ‘self-executing’. But nor can it credibly be suggested that the result of the referendum will be ‘advisory’ in the sense of currently being handled as a subject of academic interest only: a referendum is not, and is not designed to be, an physical exercise in mere summary view polling at substantial public price. Ended up the outcome to favour independence, it would be used (and no doubt utilised by the SNP as the central plank) to search for to develop momentum in the direction of obtaining that conclude: the termination of the Union.

This reply from the Advocate Typical also speaks to the determination of the Scottish Parliament in legislating for the referendum, which is taken to be the dissolution of the Union. There are of program pretty superior contextual factors for imagining this is the circumstance offered the SNP’s legislative programme. The assert that the aim of the Invoice is the dissolution of the United Kingdom speaks, on the other hand, to its inspiration, which is distinct from, and inadequate to, establishing goal. The last portion of this publish argues that even if the intent of the Bill is construed narrowly, as ascertaining the views of Scots, this nonetheless relates to the reserved subject of the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England and is thus outside of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Construing Purpose Narrowly

Though there are good contextual explanations to think the intent of the Scottish Referendum Bill is the dissolution of the United Kingdom, it is superior to consider the Invoice at deal with value as only ascertaining the sights of Scots. The essential to deciding goal, according to Bloomsbury International Ltd. v Department for Ecosystem Foods and Rural Affairs [10-11] really should be the wording of the statute. The dilemma then, of class, is how narrow or broadly to construe the intent. Could the intent be, for occasion, to set up the democratic correct of the Scottish persons to come to a decision this challenge, particularly supplied the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament as founded by the Scotland Act? Or probably the objective is to implement democracy, provided the recurring refusals of the British isles Government to grant a part 30 get?

Provided the Invoice itself identifies its intent, the most effective approach is to take it as narrowly as feasible: only to identify what Scots consider about the query of independence. It is harmful to the devolution settlement to unnecessarily ascribe wide motivations to the Monthly bill. In any function, even placing the question to a referendum is exterior the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence.

Ascertainment as Impacting Reserved Issues

It is handy to distinguish in between two factors at which holding a referendum might relate to reserved matters. The outcomeof a referendum, in the sort of millions of votes, may have legal influence but the very decision to maintain a referendum – even an advisory referendum – relates to the reserved issue of the Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland as nicely. Even inquiring these kinds of a query has far more than a ‘loose or consequential’ marriage to a reserved issue. This is the situation even while keeping a referendum is not, in general, a reserved make any difference. To see why, consider two other eventualities exactly where the influence of asking a issue is distinctive from the effects of determining. 

Imagine I have a mortgage loan with a lender for 25 years. Suppose the mortgage loan claims it can not be terminated without the bank’s acceptance. Consider I put the issue to my close friends: ‘should I terminate my property finance loan?’ The impact of asking this dilemma, and acquiring responses from my friends, has extra than a ‘loose and consequential’ partnership with my property finance loan: that is what I am asking my buddies about. Even while my friends’ solutions have no affect on the mortgage, and even nevertheless I are unable to terminate the house loan unilaterally, that does not mean their sights have no outcome on a conclusion about the house loan. 

A second illustration of this form is uncovered in the Advocate General’s submissions. It is argued there that Scotland could not maintain a referendum on other reserved matters, these types of as the monarchy. This is a handy case in point mainly because it would be probable to devise an advisory referendum which would have no impression on ending the monarchy in Scotland, but that does not necessarily mean these types of a referendum would not be connected to that make any difference or would have no impact on it. Even inquiring that question has influence, as it would in the scenario of the Scottish Independence Invoice, by triggering the applicable provisions of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020. Calling a referendum initiates authorized machinery which places a reserved dilemma to voters. Although the final result of this sort of a referendum may not have a immediate and shut marriage with ending the monarchy in Scotland, that is not the related question. The superior queries are these: does this hypothetical referendum have the purpose of inquiring about ending the monarchy? And is the make any difference of monarchy reserved? Provided the answers to these inquiries are of course, and yes, such a Invoice will have to be beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The similar is real of the Scottish Independence Referendum Invoice. 

The Advocate Basic suggests at [115] of her prepared case that the wording of the Scotland Act implies that, in identifying the goal of a provision, the question of topic make any difference is secondary to the dilemma of result. Recall, s 29(3) says ‘the query of regardless of whether a provision of the Scottish Parliament relates to a reserved matter is to be determined…by reference to the function of the provision, possessing regard (amongst other factors) to its result in all the conditions.’ When it is real that the statute does not point out or foreground ‘subject make a difference,’ the statute is prepared to be as expansive as feasible allowing for regard for ‘among other things’ in ‘all instances.’ Inquiring a question which so squarely problems a reserved issue is more than enough to fulfill to satisfy the open up-ended necessities of s 29(3), specifically when asking these a issue does have an effect anyway. Timetable 5 alone refers to reserved matters, not to the result of reserved issues. 


This write-up has argued that keeping a referendum to check with a concern about a reserved make a difference has an influence on that make any difference, even if the referendum’s result has no direct or indirect effects on it. Effect and affect are not synonymous. Inquiring a concern has an outcome in two methods. To start with, it has the legal outcome of initiating the equipment to hold a referendum. Second, and a lot more importantly, on the subject matter matter alone. Asking Scots what they consider about the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England has much more than a unfastened or consequential relationship to the reserved issue of the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. The reserved matter is the problem currently being requested. 

I am grateful to Alison Youthful and Mike Gordon for pretty handy feedback on an previously draft of this piece. 

Leah Trueblood is Vocation Improvement Fellow in Public Regulation at Worcester Higher education, Oxford.

(Proposed citation: L. Trueblood, ‘What is the ‘Purpose’ of the Scottish Independence Referendum Monthly bill?’, U.K. Const. L. Website (11th Oct 2022) (available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/))

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