Nicola Sturgeon has revealed she is to request the transfer of power from Westminster which would allow Holyrood to stage a referendum on Scottish independence.
The First Minister told MSPs she is to “seek agreement” from the UK Government during the course of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which would pave the way for such a vote to be held. The legislation is currently being scrutinised by MSPs.
And she pledged to place the issue at the heart of the widely expected general election next month as the UK Government continues to refuse to authorise a repeat of the 2014 independence vote.
“We intend to offer the people of Scotland a choice of a better and more positive future as an independent nation,” she said in Parliament yesterday.
The SNP leader was setting out her Programme for Government at Holyrood as MSPs returned from their summer break.
Westminster has control over the constitution and it would require a transfer of power – through a Section 30 order – to allow a second referendum to be held. This has been rejected so far by the Tory Government.
But Ms Sturgeon said: “The Referendums (Scotland) Bill, introduced before recess, is about to resume its Parliamentary progress.
“I can confirm today that during the passage of the Bill we will seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge.
“We have a clear, democratic mandate to offer the choice of independence within this term of Parliament and we intend to do so.”
The Bill is expected to be passed before the end of the year, which would mean a request being lodged in the coming weeks.
The First Minister has previously said she could hold an independence referendum late next year.
Ms Sturgeon warned the issue would be at the heart of the looming general election, which has been tipped to be held as early as 14 October.
“Let me be crystal clear today, the SNP will put Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose independence at the very heart of that contest,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Scots voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent in favour of remaining in the UK in 2014, but recent polls indicate a narrow majority of Scots would now back independence.
The Commons move this week by cross-party opposition and Tory rebels to block a no-deal Brexit was also backed by the SNP leader.
“Given the anti-democratic move last week by Boris Johnson to shut down Parliament, it is absolutely vital that this effort succeeds,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“SNP MPs will do everything possible to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.
“Scotland did not vote for any form of Brexit and having a catastrophic no-deal imposed upon us is completely and utterly unacceptable.”
But pro-union opponents slammed the prospect of another referendum.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is an irresponsible and reckless threat from Nicola Sturgeon.
“The very last thing that Scotland needs at a time of constitutional crisis is more constitutional chaos.
“This is a stark reminder that the SNP never seeks to bring people together, only to divide people and make communities poorer.”
Tory interim leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s typical of the First Minister that her statement both began and ended with independence.
“It really is the be-all-and-end-all for her nationalist government.”