Holding a second independence referendum before the end of Holyrood’s current parliamentary term is “still possible”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister said she will not set out her views on the timing of any fresh independence vote until the final phase of withdrawal negotiations between the UK Government and Brussels is complete.
But she maintained that the Scottish Parliament has a mandate to hold a new referendum before the next Holyrood elections in 2021.
Sturgeon also reiterated that SNP MPs would back a so-called “People’s Vote” – a second EU referendum – if it was put before the House of Commons.
However, she added she was not “the most enthusiastic advocate” of a second Brexit vote because it could still produce the same result as in 2016, when Scotland voted to remain but the UK opted to leave.
The SNP leader was speaking to STV News’ Holyrood editor Colin Mackay as her party enters day two of its conference in Glasgow.
As well as highlighting the “strong possibility” of a no-deal Brexit, Sturgeon also pointed to the “increasing” likelihood of a “blind Brexit”.
This would be “where the Prime Minister is able to cobble together a withdrawal agreement, but in order to do that, all of the issues about the future relationship would have to be fudged and kicked into the long grass”, she explained.
Pressed if a no-deal Brexit would trigger a second independence referendum, she replied: “When I know the outcome of this phase of the negotiations, whether it’s no deal, whether it’s blind deal, whether it’s a bad deal, I will set out at that point my views on an independence referendum.
“I think there will be another independence referendum, but in the decision around what my view of the timing is, I will do as I’ve said as I would do and wait until we get to the end of this phase of the negotiations.”
Asked if a fresh independence vote could happen during this parliamentary term, Sturgeon said: “By definition, because I haven’t taken the decision, anything – including that – is still possible.”
She continued: “Of course, the other point that should be made, and I will make, is that there is a mandate for that within this parliament.
“We can talk about process and we’re all interested in the process of this, but let’s not forget the arguments for Scotland becoming independent.
“It means we don’t have change like Brexit imposed on us against our will, it means we get to steward our own assets and resources, build our fairer country, put ourselves in charge of our destiny.”
The First Minister was also asked if Saturday’s large pro-independence march in Edinburgh at the weekend put pressure on her from the party’s grassroots to call an independence referendum soon.
She answered: “I always laugh to myself when I hear people say that a historically large march in favour of independence somehow puts pressure on me.
“I’ve spent my entire life campaigning for independence, I’m the leader of a pro-independence party.
“Watching tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Edinburgh to campaign for independence actually makes me very happy – it’s a good thing.”
On Sunday, she revealed SNP MPs would “undoubtedly” back a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal if the proposal was put forward at Westminster.
Questioned on why the party had changed its position on this, the SNP leader told STV News: “I’ve said for a long time we wouldn’t stand in the way of it.
“As we get closer to the point where a proposition may come before the House of Commons then I think it’s important to be clear that that not standing in the way of it means that we would vote for that if the opportunity rises.
“I pointed out, as I did yesterday and as I’ll do today – and maybe this maybe explains why I’m not the most enthusiastic advocate of a second EU referendum, because I know it doesn’t necessarily solve the conundrum Scotland faced in 2016 – we could have a second vote and the same outcome transpires.”
Sturgeon said it “would be wrong for the SNP to stand in the way of people elsewhere in the UK having an opportunity to look again at this given the lack of detail that they have about the future relationship”.
But she added: “The only real solution to the democratic deficit Scotland faces, the only real way of not having change imposed on us against our will, is to be independent.”
As Alex Salmond prepares to take legal action against the Scottish Government over its handling of sexual misconduct complaints made against him, the First Minister was asked if it put a cloud over the conference.
“There’s no rainclouds over the SNP conference, we’re 20 points clear of our nearest rivals,” Sturgeon said.
“Support in all polls shows support for the SNP rising, support for independence is rising, so try as you might you’re not going to make me feel depressed.”
She added: “On the question about Alec, of course it’s a difficult situation about the party, it’s a difficult situation for him, it’s a difficult situation for me personally.
“But when complaints come forward they have to be properly investigated regardless of who the complaints are about.”
In her view, officials have handled the investigation into the complaints properly.
“I believe the civil service has acted in line with the procedure that I signed off at the end of last year,” the First Minister said.