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 to eleven 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, Ms Sturgeon said she had neither "ruled it out nor ruled it in" when asked if a second independence referendum could happen in 2021.
In a round of interviews ahead of the Conference, she said: “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."
However, she made clear that a more precise timescale would be made in their 2021 election manifesto.
The First Minister of Scotland continued: "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."
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The most recent YouGov polling conducted earlier this month put the SNP on 56 percent for the constituency vote and 47 percent for the regional list while the Scottish Conservatives stood at 19 percent and 20 percent respectively, while Scottish Labour were on 15 percent and 13 percent.
Ms Sturgeon stressed people across the world including Scotland would need to decide "what kind of society we want to be" as they emerge from the pandemic making clear 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 added: "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.”
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However, opposition parties have reacted with fury to the announcement with parties stressing the Scottish Government and SNP should be focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said another referendum was "the last thing Scotland needs" adding: "Nicola Sturgeon says we should have another independence referendum ‘sooner rather than later’ and won’t even rule one out next year.
“The SNP’s plans to divide the country all over again so soon, when we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, are utterly reckless and it’s frankly embarrassing that the SNP think this should be anyone’s priority right now.
“Another divisive referendum is the last thing that Scotland needs. Their obsession with independence is out of control and their conference hasn’t even started yet.
“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."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "On the day the SNP government is questioned on its inability to keep care homes safe, we find the First Minister had been spending time planning a referendum.
"We need a government that's focused needle-sharp on recovery from this crisis."
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, added: “This is reckless talk from the First Minister.
“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.”
The SNP conference will run between Saturday, November 28th and Monday, November 30th.