The First Minister and her government today published the Referendums (Scotland) Bill to provide a legal framework for the holding of referendums "on any matters within Scotland’s control", with the expectation it will be on the statute book by the end of 2019. However power to hold a second independence referendum still lies with the UK government.
The Bill comes just a week after Nicola Sturgeon asked unionist voters to "lend" the SNP their vote to her party in the European elections to send a reminder to the UK government that Scotland had voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.
She had said: "This is about Scotland’s right to be heard, it’s about sending a message at this European election about Scotland’s aspirations to remain in the EU. The strongest way of sending that message is to vote SNP, whether you are for or against independence.”
After the election results - in which the SNP topped the poll in Scotland and sent three MEPs to Brussels, Ms Sturgeon said her party's victory meant that a second independence referendum should be held next year - a year earlier than she had previously proposed.
But Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is a reckless act by an irresponsible government.
“With a constitutional crisis over Brexit, the very last thing the country and the economy needs is deeper division and greater uncertainty.
“Nicola Sturgeon only cares about putting up barriers between people, but it’s time for her to become First Minister for everyone in Scotland and drop this unwanted plan.
“Only a fifth of voters back her proposal to force a divisive second independence referendum on the country by 2021, and a third of former Yes voters now want to remain in the UK.”