Ahead of the Scottish National Party Conference, Nicola Sturgeon said a second vote would occur within “the very early period” of the next Holyrood Parliament – understood to be within nine months. SNP delegates and members will meet virtually this weekend to discuss party policy with the Scottish First Minister due to give an update on Scotland’s future on Monday.
But speaking tonight, when asked if a second independence referendum could happen in 2021, Ms Sturgeon said she had neither “ruled it out nor ruled it in”.
She added: “I think it’s right, not least because of the challenges this country is facing coming out and rebuilding from COVID that Scotland should have the opportunity to choose whether to become independent in the earlier rather than the later part of the next parliament.”
The SNP leader added the party would most likely put a “more precise timescale” in their 2021 election manifesto.
She added: “I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament.
“I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead. I’m a life-long believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I’m also the First Minister of Scotland.
“My responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic and I’m very focused on that.”
But she said people across the world including Scotland would need to decide “what kind of society we want to be” as they emerge from the pandemic.
Ms Sturgeon added there was an element for Scotland which would be questioning whether its future should be decided by “a Westminster government that seems determined to take us in the wrong direction” or a “Scottish government, of whatever party in the future, that is accountable to the Scottish people”.
She said: “If people in Scotland vote for a referendum, there will be a referendum.
“Across the Atlantic, even Trump is having to concede the outcome of a fair and free democratic election.”
But Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is reckless talk from the First Minister.
“It will take years for our health service and economy to recover from the pandemic, and that will have to be the entire focus for the Scottish Government for the next few years.
“Seeking to divide us with another referendum is the wrong priority, and it is not the priority of the people of Scotland.
“Rather than trying to tear us apart, the SNP should focus on uniting us.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, added: “Nicola Sturgeon says we should have another independence referendum ‘sooner rather than later’ and won’t even rule one out next year.
“The only thing to stop this and keep us focussed on beating Covid and supporting our recovery after this virus is a vote for the Scottish Conservatives.”