Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out a deal with Nicola Sturgeon to win the keys to 10 Downing Street after she pledged to use the next general election as a “de facto” independence referendum.
The Labour leader issued a categorical denial that he would endorse any agreement whereby SNP MPs would support his government in return for him allowing another separation vote.
His rejection of any deal “with a party that wants to break up the United Kingdom” appeared to leave Ms Sturgeon’s independence strategy in disarray after the UK’s highest court ruled she could not stage her own referendum.
The First Minister said the Supreme Court’s ruling that she did not have the legal power to hold the separation vote she wanted to stage on Oct 19 next year was a “tough pill to swallow”.
Speaking at a press conference following the “unanimous” ruling, she said the “most obvious” alternative was using the next general election to measure Scottish public opinion.
She argued she would have a mandate to open independence negotiations with the UK Government if the SNP, possibly with the other nationalist parties, received the majority of the popular vote in Scotland.
Pressed over how a general election result could lead to independence, she argued that a “new prime minister” could “strike a more democratic tone” by allowing her a vote.
But Alex Salmond accused her of leading independence supporters down a blind alley as Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir made clear a general election could not be used to break up the UK.
The Labour leader’s official spokesman told reporters: “We have said there will be no deals going into the election, no deals coming out of the election. We will not be doing any deals with a party that wants to break up the United Kingdom. That is not our position.”
Pressed to categorically rule out a post-election deal with the SNP over a referendum to help Sir Keir get to 10 Downing Street, he said: “Correct.”
PM welcomes ‘definitive ruling from the Supreme Court’
Downing Street also rejected the plan, with sources close to the Prime Minister pointing to comments he made to The Telegraph in the summer when he said “trying to hijack a general election for an issue like that wouldn’t be right and wouldn’t be constitutional”.
Mr Sunak welcomed the “clear and definitive ruling from the Supreme Court”, telling the Commons that the people wanted the UK and Scottish governments “to be working on fixing the major challenges that we collectively face, whether that’s the economy, supporting the NHS or indeed supporting Ukraine”.
The pound briefly increased in value against the dollar after the ruling was published. Currency analysts had warned of volatility if the court ruled in favour of the Scottish government.
The five justices all concluded the First Minister’s draft Referendum Bill would go beyond Holyrood’s powers as the Union between Scotland and England and the sovereignty of the UK Parliament are matters reserved to Westminster.
Lord Reed of Allermuir, the court’s Scottish president, said a “unanimous” decision had been reached and it was “clear” that a separation vote would have “important political consequences” for the Union.
The five justices also gave short shrift to SNP submissions that international law conferred a legal right to self-determination, saying they had relied on a Canadian case that referred to “oppressed” people in former colonies or under military occupation.
Scotland being denied ‘the right to choose a different future’
Ms Sturgeon insisted that she respected the ruling but claimed that the UK was no longer a “voluntary Union and partnership”, with Scotland being denied “the right to choose a different future”.
Arguing that her preferred route was still a referendum, she urged the UK Government to give her the legal power to stage a vote, either by amending the Scotland Act that created devolution or a temporary order, as used in 2014.
But she admitted that there was currently little prospect of Mr Sunak dropping his opposition and pledged to “find another democratic, lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “In my view, that can only be an election. The next national election scheduled for Scotland is of course the UK general election, making that both the first and the most obvious opportunity to seek what I described back in June as a de facto referendum.”
She said the SNP’s ruling national executive committee would arrange a special party conference in the new year for members to “discuss and agree the details”.