The SNP has been told to repay taxpayers over the cost of the Supreme Court case which saw judges rule that Holyrood does not have the power to hold an independence referendum.
In a verdict delivered at the UK’s highest court in London, it was unanimously determined that legislating for a referendum on the constitution would be outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
The decision was welcomed by opposition parties opposed to Scottish independence, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak describing it as a “clear and decisive” ruling.
However, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Scottish democracy would not be “denied”, as she set out her intention that the next general election should act as a de-facto referendum.
It had been the aim of the First Minister and her government to hold a vote on the issue in October 2023.
But, that timeline has now been thrown off, with the next general election not due until January 2025 at the latest.
On Friday, Sturgeon will address party members at the SNP’s annual St Andrew’s Dinner in Glasgow, where she is expected to discuss the Supreme Court ruling and state the case for independence.
However the First Minister has been urged to commit to refunding taxpayers over the money spent by the Scottish Government on the case.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, insisted it is time for the SNP to instead “focus on what really matters”, as he pointed to NHS waiting times and strikes by teachers across the country.
“Scores of legal experts warned that the law was clear and that this case was a complete waste of Supreme Court time and taxpayers’ money, but sadly SNP ministers did not listen,” he said.
“In the wake of this embarrassing defeat for the First Minister, her party should commit to refund the taxpayers for all the money that has been wasted on this case.
“Parents having to stay home because schools are closed and patients struggling to get the treatment they need will be baffled that public money has been thrown away on this wasteful and delusional grievance-mongering exercise.
“It is time the SNP government finally focus on what really matters. What Scotland needs now is new hope, not old divisions.”
In her speech at the St Andrews’ event, Sturgeon argued that the Scottish independence movement is growing.
“(The) judgment from the Supreme Court has galvanised the Yes movement right across Scotland,” she said.
“Thousands of people took to the streets, in freezing Scottish winter weather, to demonstrate their support for Scottish democracy.”
The SNP leader suggested the movement is now as much about democracy, as it is about independence.
She continued: “Tory, Labour, Lib Dem – they’re all joined at the hip. They now have to defend the indefensible.
“If they thought that this outcome would be helpful to them, they have made a catastrophic miscalculation.
“The inconvenient truth for Westminster is that, much as they would prefer otherwise, the Scottish independence movement is not going away.
“Indeed, it is growing, it is strengthening and it is winning, because it is now as much a democracy movement as an independence movement.”
Sturgeon claimed that the number of Scots in favour of independence will rise due to the actions of those in London.
“The more people down in Westminster boast to people in Scotland that they have no right to decide their own future, the more people in Scotland will stand up and demand that basic democratic right,” she added.
“The more they demonstrate the UK is not a partnership, the more people here will demand the equality that will come with independence.”
Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, accused the SNP leader of being “stuck in a nationalist echo chamber” and pandering to a minority.
“People will be dismayed that Nicola Sturgeon is doubling down on the nationalists’ obsession, rather than getting back to the day job and tackling the urgent concerns of most Scots,” said Cameron.
“The inconvenient truth for her is that the Scottish public don’t want independence and have already rejected it.
“They certainly don’t want another divisive referendum that the court has ruled out, when the SNP government should be focused on helping them through the global cost-of-living crisis.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon is stuck in a nationalist echo chamber, pandering to the minority and oblivious to the concerns of the outside world.”
Scottish Labour constitution spokesperson Sarah Boyack claimed that the SNP are “desperately scrambling” for relevance.
“Most people don’t want a referendum next year, let alone independence, but they don’t want the status quo either,” she said.
“In Scotland and across the UK, there is a majority for change and a Labour government in Westminster will deliver that.
“The SNP are desperately scrambling for relevance in the next general election because they know only Labour can kick out this economically illiterate and morally bankrupt Tory government and deliver the change we need.”