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U.K. Supreme Court rules that Scotland can't hold an independence referendum

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The agreement that created the United Kingdom is more than 300 years old. It has bound England and Scotland together ever since 1707. But over the past couple of decades, politicians and some voters in Scotland have said they would be better off on their own. Today, the U.K.'s Supreme Court made that prospect of Scottish independence a little more distant, as Willem Marx reports from London.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Back in 2014, when a referendum offered Scottish voters a chance to support independence, 55% decided Scotland was better off staying in the U.K. That result disappointed the Scottish National Party, or SNP. But the Conservative Party, which then and now governs the U.K. as a whole, considered the matter settled for some time to come. Two years later, though, Scots voted in another referendum to remain inside the European Union. The U.K. as a whole voted to leave it. That reopened the argument for Scottish independence.

Last year, the SNP strengthened its hold over the Scottish Parliament and started publicly demanding a rerun of the 2014 vote. More recently, the SNP's leader and Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, penciled in that rerun for next October if the U.K. Supreme Court said she had the power to hold it in the face of opposition from London. Today, the court's five judges ruled unanimously that Scotland would indeed need that English approval. Sturgeon said she was disappointed at the implication.

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NICOLA STURGEON: The Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for the referendum that the people of Scotland have instructed it to deliver. That is a hard pill for any supporter of independence, and surely indeed for any supporter of democracy, to swallow.

MARX: During a series of tough questions in Parliament for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, SNP legislators argued the court's decision meant Scotland's union with England no longer felt voluntary. They also contrasted their party's majority in the Scottish legislature with Sunak's lack of an electoral mandate to govern the U.K. Sunak ignored that criticism.

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PRIME MINISTER RISHI SUNAK: I think that the people of Scotland want us to be working on fixing the major challenges that we collectively face, whether that's the economy or indeed supporting Ukraine. Now is the time for politicians to work together, and that's what this government will do.

MARX: Like several of his predecessors, Sunak was telling the SNP to simply try to focus on other topics. That's unlikely to happen, with Sturgeon promising her party's platform in future elections will purely focus on independence. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx