JUDGES at Scotland’s highest civil court have rejected an action brought by a Cairneyhill campaigner who sought an order that Holyrood could hold an independence referendum unilaterally.

Martin Keatings wanted the Court of Session to rule that the Scottish Parliament had the power to legislate for another indy vote.

Lawyers for the activist told Lady Carmichael in January 2021 that they believed the Holyrood Parliament possessed the powers for it to call a referendum. They stated that the Scottish Government did not need the permission of its Westminster counterpart.

However, lawyers acting for the UK Government argued that Mr Keatings didn’t have the “standing” to bring the matter to court.

They told Lady Carmichael that Mr Keatings wasn’t a member of the Scottish Parliament and wasn’t “directly affected” by the policy or by the answer to the question.

Lady Carmichael agreed with the submissions made by the UK Government with regards to Mr Keating’s standing.

This prompted Mr Keatings to take his bid to the Inner House of the Court of Session. On Friday, civil appeal judges Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Doherty upheld their colleague’s earlier decision.

In a judgement issued on Friday, Lord Carloway wrote that the matters raised by Mr Keatings were academic and that the court couldn’t make a ruling on the matter.

He wrote: “The principle of access to justice requires that, as a generality, anyone can apply to the court to determine what the law is in a given situation. There are limits to this. One of them is that, again as a generality, the court will not determine hypothetical or academic questions.

“At present, there is no Bill before the Parliament, although there is a draft Bill. A draft Bill has no legal status. The result of the election is not yet known.

“A Bill may or may not be introduced, depending upon the Government formed as a consequence of the election. If introduced, a Bill may or may not be passed by the Parliament, depending upon that institution’s composition. If a Bill is introduced, it may or may not be in the form which is contained in the draft.

|If the Bill were passed … it is highly probable that the UK Government’s law officers would refer the Bill for scrutiny by the UK Supreme Court. All of these eventualities render the current remedies sought premature, hypothetical and academic. A decision by this court on the matters litigated would serve no practical purpose.”

Mr Keatings is a member of the Forward As One group. The organisation obtained a legal opinion in December 2019 from top advocate Aidan O’Neill QC. Mr O’Neill’s opinion concluded that it would be lawful for the Scottish Parliament to call for an independence referendum without the UK Government’s position.

This prompted Mr Keatings to launch a fundraising initiative on the Crowd Justice website and this resulted in him raising more than £200,000 to pay for legal fees.

However, many constitutional law experts believe that Holyrood can only hold an independence referendum if it obtains permission from Westminster. They say the legal mechanism for this lies in section 30 of a piece of legislation called the Scotland Act 1998.

The action proceeded to court after Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to grant the order.

The last time Scotland held an independence referendum was in 2014 when 55 per cent of Scots voted to remain in the UK.

Mr Keatings is standing as an independent candidate for Mid-Scotland and Fife in the Scottish Parliament elections today (Thursday).

At earlier proceedings, Mr O’Neill said Mr Keatings was representing the public interest in the action.

However, the advocate general’s lawyer, David Johnston QC, said that a pursuer in the Court of Session had to be affected directly in the action.

He said Mr Keatings didn’t meet this requirement and that “the rule of law does not require that he should".

Lady Carmichael refused to grant the order.

On Friday, Lord Carloway and his colleagues upheld Lady Carmichael’s earlier ruling.

He wrote: For these reasons, the court will adhere to the Lord Ordinary’s interlocutor of 5 February 2021 in so far as it sustains the first to fourth pleas-in-law for the first defender and the first and second pleas-in-law for the second defender and dismisses the action.”