THE UK Supreme Court has set a provisional date for hearing the case about whether Holyrood has the power to stage a second independence referendum without Westminster’s consent.

The UK’s highest court is due to hear arguments on October 11 and 12, just after the SNP's annual conference in Aberdeen from October 8 to 10. 

SNP Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson said it was "welcome news", while his unionist critics accused him of pursuing a wasteful "vanity project".

It follows Scotland’s most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC, referring the issue to the court last month for a definitive ruling.

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said her preference would be for the UK Government to grant Holyrood the power to hold Indyref2 on October 23 next year.

This happened ahead of the 2014 referendum, when a deal between Edinburgh and London saw Westminster lend power to Holyrood under a so-called Section 30 order, making the referendum legally watertight.

However Boris Johnson has twice refused to grant another Section 30 order, and his successor is set to follow suit.

The First Minister threatened to pass a Referendum Bill through Holyrood regardless and dare the UK Government to challenge it at the Supreme Court.

However Ms Bain refused to sign off on the draft legislation, as she was not convinced it would be within Holyrood’s legislative competence.

Her reference to the Supreme Court is intended to clarify whether such a Bill would be within Holyrood’s powers, or would stray into issues reserved solely to Westminster.

As the Union is explicitly reserved to Westminster in the 1998 Scotland Act which delivered devolution, most legal experts expect the court to rule Holyrood cannot hold Indyref2 without the agreement of Westminster. 

If the Court does rule that way, Ms Sturgeon has said she will fight the next general election as a “de facto referendum” on the single question of independence.

However, that is unlikely to be seen as a valid process by the international community.

The UK Government had tried to have the Court dismiss the Lord Advocate’s reference as premature, doing away with the need for a full hearing.

However on Tuesday the Court refused an application by the UK Government’s top law officer on Scotland, the Advocate General Lord Stewart QC, which would have required both sides to file “written cases restricted to the question whether the court can or should accept the reference”.

Today, the Supreme Court confirmed that arguments will be heard on October 11 and 12 – almost exactly a year ahead of the date of a proposed referendum on October 23, 2023.

The Court's ruling is expected late this year.

Mr Robertson said: “The Supreme Court’s confirmation that a hearing on the Lord Advocate’s Reference has been listed for 11 and 12 October 2022 is welcome news.

"The Lord Advocate’s written case has been filed with the Supreme Court and will be published in due course.

“During this period, it would be inappropriate for the Scottish Government to comment any further as the matter is before the Court.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are grateful to the Supreme Court for setting a date for a hearing. We are preparing our written case on the preliminary points we have noted, as well as the substantive issue, and will submit in accordance with the timetable set by the Court.

“On the question of legislative competence, the UK Government’s clear view remains that a Bill legislating for a referendum on independence would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This vanity project is a world away from what Scotland wants and needs.

“SNP and Green ministers are distracted and obsessed by the cause of independence when they should be focused on tackling NHS waiting lists, improving education standards and addressing the cost-of-living crisis.

“It’s incredible that Nicola Sturgeon thinks this is a good use of anyone’s time when all these challenges are going on.

“Scotland’s future is stronger and more secure as part of the UK.”

The final two Tory leadership candidates have both said they would refuse a Section 30 request from the Scottish Government.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Spectator podcast another referendum was “not the priority” for people in Scotland.

While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, when asked if she would agree to a request under any circumstances, said: “No”.

She added: “The last referendum in 2014 was described as a once-in-a-generation referendum, we’re now in 2022 – that is not a generation ago.”