Given the stance of Theresa May on allowing Scotland a second referendum, how could Scotland become independent?

In short, if the UK government refused to acknowledge the mandate of the SNP to call a referendum, what recourse could they (the SNP) have to call a - in some way legally binding - referendum?

  • I think that the UK must agree somehow since Scotland's part of the UK now.
    – Panda
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 16:24
  • 2
    It's probably worth noting that referendums aren't generally legally binding in the UK anyway. Since the Westminster parliament holds sovereignty, they're only consultative, unless there's an act passed before the referendum which says something like "The following stuff will have in the case of result X in the referendum." See the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/1/section/8/enacted for an example.
    – origimbo
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 17:19
  • 6
    Well, they could use 1776 model, seems to have worked once... :)
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


There is no way for the Scottish Parliament to call a legally binding referendum

Referendums are not legally binding. Under any circumstance, the UK parliament would have to approve the breakup of the Union. The UK has a tradition of "government by consent" (as least a relates to home nations) In the event of a clearly and consistently expressed will of the Scottish people to leave the UK, it is unlikely that the Government would prevent it.

A comment mentions the 1776 solution: i.e. violent revolution. However, a more directly relevant comparison would be 1861. If an SNP government were to attempt to become independent by violent means they would have to overcome a much larger force... This scenario does not seem remotely possible at this point.

(Couple of notes: An act of parliament can have the effect of making a referendum binding, however such an act can also be repealed. It would have to be a Westminster bill, since it affects the whole of the UK.

The note about government by consent. See how the Irish uprising of 1916 didn't lead to all out war. Or even how, post-1945, the British Empire was dismantled. While this wasn't always the case, at the end of the day, the UK government doesn't often attempt to maintain control of territories against the will of the population by force.)

  • However the Scottish people retain a very strong right of trial by jury; so strong that it could actually cripple the government if the people were upset enough by the government's mere existence.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 4:08

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