NICOLA Sturgeon said Scotland would vote for independence in a second referendum during a fiery televised debate last night.
The SNP leader made her prediction when repeatedly asked to rule out holding a second vote by her political rivals.
The clash between Scotland’s main political leaders saw Ms Sturgeon urged to respect the result of the 2014 referendum as well as being challenged over her party’s tax plans.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The result of the next referendum – and I think there will be another one – will be, to state the obvious, up to the people of Scotland.
“I think the next time we will vote Yes. If you go two years out from the last referendum nobody would have expected that support for Yes would reach 45 per cent. And every opinion poll since the referendum support for independence has been higher.”
She added: “I am a passionate believer in independence, if I am going to get a majority I am going to have to make the arguments better than I did the last time.”
Her opponents, however, said the No vote was a “bullet dodged”, pointing to Scotland’s £15 billion deficit and the collapse of the oil industry.
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was time to move on from the constitutional battle and use the new powers coming to Holyrood.
The Green co-leader and independence supporter Patrick Harvie also conceded a referendum was not an immediate priority.
The debate also saw Ms Davidson admit graduates would pay more than £1,500 a year for their university education under Scottish Conservative plans for tuition fees – a sum that would amount to £6,000 for a four-year degree.
During a bruising question and answer session with Ms Sturgeon, Ms Davidson also admitted patients would pay £8 for medicine under her plans to reintroduce prescription charges.
Ms Davidson said university education would cost “just over £1,500 a year” when cross examined on her policy by Ms Sturgeon. A figure was also put on Ms Davidson’s prescription policy when she said the Conservatives would “phase in” charges.
As she revealed the figures the SNP leader told her: “You’re not the party of low taxes, you’re the party of hidden taxes.”
Asked about charges for university students, Ms Davidson said: “It’s not a graduate tax, it’s a contribution after you have graduated and once you are earning money. We expect it to be within the region of just over £1,500 a year that you are at university, so that’s a lot less than England.”
She added that getting graduates to pay for their education would pay for 152,000 college places.
On prescription charges, Ms Davidson said she would rather comfortably off people paid for their medicines if it meant more cash could be spent on cancer drugs.
Ms Dugdale was urged by Ms Sturgeon to apologise for her party’s “alliance” with the Conservatives during the referendum.
The Labour leader dodged the question when asked if she would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories again, but defended her party’s campaign for a No vote.
Given the collapse of the oil price, Ms Dugdale said she was “glad” she had voted against independence and would campaign for one again.
Challenged by Ms Davidson on Labour’s attempts to woo Yes voters, Ms Dugdale had a dig at the Tory leader’s love of photocalls.
Ms Dugdale said she would “stand against another referendum” before adding: “I don’t have to sit on a tank and wave a Union Jack to prove the UK is a good thing.”
With the Holyrood election the first to a Scottish Parliament with power over income tax bands and rates, economic policy dominated the opening exchanges.
Ms Sturgeon was again accused of not producing radical enough policies.
Ms Dugdale said the SNP plans would not generate enough revenue to stop cuts to public services.
After Ms Sturgeon said her plans would raise £2 billion for public services, Ms Dugdale claimed double that was required to mitigate the cuts, adding that her plans to put a penny on income tax across the bands would achieve that.
Mr Rennie criticised the timidity of the SNP’s plans.
“For 80-years the SNP have argued for more powers when Nicola Sturgeon finally gets the chance to use them, she is frozen to the spot and is not seizing the opportunity to do something radical and transformational,” he said.
Ms Davidson repeated the Conservative pledge not to raise tax in Scotland, saying hers was the only party protecting the cash of “working people”.
The Conservative leader said her tax policy, which would see Chancellor George Osborne’s tax breaks for higher earners passed on in Scotland, would encourage growth, investment and jobs.