The prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum may not take place until after the next Holyrood election in 2021, Nicola Sturgeon has indicated.
The First Minister has pledged to call a fresh vote on leaving the UK in response to Brexit and the ensuing withdrawal chaos, after a majority of Scots voted to remain in the UK.
But the SNP leader told a conference held by Women for Independence (WFI) at the weekend that she may ask Scots to decide on the issue at the next election if she does not receive permission from Westminster, which has control over constitutional issues, for such a referendum.
David Cameron allowed a “section 30” order to pave the way for the 2014 referendum, but Theresa May has ruled out a re-run after Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon told the WFI conference: “All of this has taken me to the point that I don’t have the easy answer to this.
“We may get into the situation where the UK Government says `No we’re not going to agree the Section 30 order’ and I think if that happens we need to rise above that, we need to make the case of how unreasonable that is.
“And ultimately the only way through that is to take that to an election to say `No we will have absolutely our right to choose’. I think that’s maybe what that will take.”
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon insisted that Ms Sturgeon has not given up on the prospect of securing a Section 30 order from Westminster.
“She was simply making the factual point that this would be an issue at the next election if it’s not been resolved before then,” he said.
“She was answering a question about a range of ways in which things might move forward.
“She’s certainly not accepting that at all. She’s said we need clarity on Brexit first.”
The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to call a snap election, although Ms Sturgeon could resign as First Minister which would bring about a vote if no other combination of parties could form a Government. With the pro-independence Greens likely to back the SNP if such a vote was called on the independence issue, the arithmetic is there for such a scenario at Holyrood.
But Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman played down this prospect, insisting; “This is not about forcing an early election.”
The spokesman said Holyrood has already voted to stage a referendum on independence.
“There was a vote for that in the Scottish Parliament,” he said.