Nicola Sturgeon wants to remain Scotland’s First Minister for at least the next five years, she revealed in an exclusive Sunday Mail interview.

The SNP leader has said she “fully intends” to remain at the helm for the 2021 Holyrood election and would then want to “serve a full term”.

There has been mounting speculation over Sturgeon’s future, with rumours of internal challenges from the likes of MP Joanna Cherry and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.

It has even been suggested she could be tempted away from Scotland by the offer of a top UN job, possibly to avoid fallout from her predecessor Alex Salmond’s trial for alleged sex assault and attempted rape next year.

But speaking on her General Election battle bus during a hectic round of campaigning in rural Perthshire, the First Minister insisted she was going nowhere.

Sunday Mail political reporter John Ferguson aboard the Nicola Sturgeon's "battle bus"

She said: “I want to continue as First Minister as long as the people of Scotland want me, and also as long as I think I have something to contribute.

“I think I am the best person for the job, I fully intend to lead my party in the 2021 election, and I think if you do that you need to be prepared to serve a full term.

“That is the basis on which I would be putting myself up for re-election as First Minister.

“I have been First Minister for five years, I have been in government for almost 13 years.

“I hope this doesn’t sound complacent, we face challenges all of the time, but having been in government for that length of time we are a party that still has very significant support.

“In this election campaign, all the evidence is that our support is rising again.

“Clearly, not withstanding all the challenges we face, people feel we are the best party to run
the country.

“That is a strong position to be in but also a huge responsibility. It is a responsibility I feel every day.”

When asked if she would contemplate a further Holyrood term after 2021, Sturgeon added: “Let me take one election at a time. I’ve gone to the next one, 2021, so asking me to think beyond that is one too far.”

The SNP is expected to improve on the 35 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats it already holds when Scotland goes to the polls on Thursday and could come close to or even exceed the 56 it won in 2015.

But Sturgeon will still face a huge battle to convince an incoming UK government to grant the Section 30 order she desperately wants in order to hold a second independence referendum next year.

Nicola Sturgeon on the SNP battle bus at South Queensferry

Boris Johnson has refused to say whether he would ever grant one, while Labour has said it would
consider allowing a referendum only after an SNP victory in the 2021 Holyrood election.

Sturgeon has responded by making clear her support for a Labour-led government in the event of a hung parliament would be conditional on the Scottish Parliament alone deciding when to hold a referendum.

She said: “I think people understand that for any Westminster party looking for the SNP’s support, accepting the principle that it is for Scotland to decide if there is a referendum and for Scotland to decide the outcome of that is fundamental.

“I’m not saying to Jeremy Corbyn, ‘You must support independence.’ I can see that’s not reasonable but all I am asking him to accept is the principle of self-determination, which is one he seems to accept for people across the world.

“I think that in his own heart of hearts he accepts it for Scotland as well but he is in this position of not wanting to upset the Scottish Labour Party too much.

“We are in the final days of an election campaign and I think it is legitimate to say to people, ‘Let’s not leave the Westminster parties in any doubt about what Scotland wants in terms of deciding its own future.’

“Imagine a week tomorrow against all of the predictions in the polls Jeremy Corbyn is in a position where, with the support of the SNP, he could form a Labour government.

“Would he turn his back on all the things he wants to do over the question of the timing of an
independence referendum? He would have a lot of explaining to do if he did.

“If there is a majority Tory government, I will cross that bridge when I come to it but that is not an inevitability and the more Scotland comes together to work against the Tories, the more chance there is to avoid Boris Johnson calling the shots.”

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Sturgeon insisted that a vote for the SNP on December 12 did not need to be a vote in favour of independence.

She urged No voters, and those undecided on the independence question, to back her party if they wanted to stop Brexit and stop the Tories getting back into government.

She added: “My message to them is that I don’t take their support for the SNP as necessarily support for independence.

"This election will not decide independence, it is about stopping Brexit and stopping Boris Johnson, it is about making sure the future of the country is decided here in Scotland, and I think that should be a point of unity.

“It is for the people to decide – they shouldn’t have that imposed on them.

“I have spoken to a lot of people who are voting SNP in this election who, if there is a referendum as of now, wouldn’t be guaranteed to vote Yes, and some who might never vote yes.

“But they are voting yes in this election because they don’t want a Boris Johnson government and they don’t
want the mess of Brexit.”