Scotland’s First Minister said she will use next May’s Holyrood election to try to win a mandate to hold an independence referendum “in the early part of the new Parliament”.
While her opponents have criticised her for speaking about the issue during the pandemic, the SNP leader said in her closing speech to her party’s conference on Monday: “Independence is not a distraction from the task of post-Covid reconstruction.
“It is essential to getting it right.”
But just how likely is a new independence referendum?
Why has there been a resurgence in the independence movement?
The 2014 independence referendum saw 55% of voters choose against separating from the rest of the United Kingdom. However, since then the UK has voted to leave the European Union - a stance strongly opposed by a 62% majority of Scots.
The SNP have claimed that this would see Scotland dragged out of the EU against their own will, therefore justifying a second referendum in five years.
Support has also grown against he backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic with many accusing Boris Johnson of mishandling the crisis. A poll by JL Partners conducted in October saw 79% of respondents agree with the sentiment: “Boris Johnson is not the leader I want to have for my country”. An IPSOS Mori poll also conducted in October meanwhile found that 72% of Scots were satisfied with the performance of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
A strong performance at the 2019 Westminster election was seen as a green light to press on with independence referendum preparations, while a resounding victory at he 2021 local elections would further strengthen the independence movement’s position.
What steps have the SNP taken?
Following their gains at the 2019 independence referendum announced her intention to demand a Section 30 - the time-limited transfer of powers to hold a referendum next year.
On December 19, 2019 the leader also announced her intention to demand the alteration of the Scotland Act so that the Scottish Parliament would no longer need to seek Westminster permission to hold a vote.
On January 20, 2020 the Scottish Parliament passed a bill endorsing a new independence referendum. Plans for a further independence referendum were halted in March as the pandemic took hold of the nation, but five months later Nicola Sturgeon announced that a new draft referendum bill was being drafted.
Speaking at the SNP conference on November 30 Nicola Sturgeon underlined her party’s desire for independence.
She said indepndence is important “if we want to make sure the country we rebuild is the one we want it to be, with kindness, compassion, fairness, equality and enterprise at its heart, and not one built in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers”.
The First Minister said she accepts “many” Scots would “prefer a stronger Scottish Parliament to independence” but said the “hard truth” is this is not on offer from Westminster, as she accused the Tories of trying to take powers away from Holyrood.
What has Boris Johnson said on the issue?
Boris Johnson has been unwavering in his dismissal of any imminent potential independence referendum.
Despite being warned by Sturgeon that "Scotland can't be held against its own will", the newly elected Prime Minister has said that he will not allow a second independence referendum under any circumstances while he is Number 10 Downing Street's resident, officially rejecting calls for a referendum in January 2020.
Mr Johnson drew criticism form supporters of Scottish independence in November when he said that "devolution has been a disaster north of the border" in a talk with Conservative MPs.
Some supporters of the Prime Minister have suggested that Mr Johnson’s persistent rejection of a further indepndence referendum is unsustainable.
What next for independence movemnt if Johnson holds firm?
Sturgeon has refused to rule out taking the Prime Minister to court if a new independence referendum is rejected, insisting that "all options" were still on the table.
The SNP leader has ruled out a Catalonia-inspired unauthorised vote, insisting that such votes don't lead to independence.
In all likelihood that leader will instead target a major victory at the Scottish elections in 2021 and serve up yet another mandate for Scottish independence to Westminster.
What are the polls saying?
Support for independence is at an all-time high, with polls consistently showing support for the pro-independence movement.
A Panelbase poll conducted in November gave the Yes movement an 11-point lead, while a Survation poll gives the movement a 7-point lead.
The most recent YouGov poll suggests that the gap is a more narrow 1-point lead.
75% of respondents to a poll conducted by Survation in October said they would support Scottish independence if they felt it would be positive for the Scottish economy.