Another vote on independence could happen before the end of 2024, the deal between the SNP and Scottish Greens says.
The agreement, negotiated since May between senior members of each party, will put two Green MSPs into Government and formalise the pro-independence majority in Holyrood.
In a 51-page document detailing the deal between the two sides, they pledge to “secure a referendum on Scottish independence after the Covid crisis”.
It adds: “This would be within the current parliamentary session on a specific date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament.
“If the Covid crisis has passed, our intention is for the referendum to be within the first half of the five-year parliamentary session.”
When whether she feels independence is made more likely by the alliance, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I am determined that there will be an independence referendum in this Parliament, I said in the election, this agreement reiterates that but Covid permitting that will be in the first half of this parliamentary term.
“I don’t want that as an end in itself or as some abstract ambition.
“I believe Scotland should be independent so we can better equip ourselves to recover from Covid in a way that I think a majority of people across our country wishes to do, towards a greener, fairer Scotland and one that learns the lessons of the past 18 months and more.
“And of course a Scotland that looks outward to Europe and the world, not one that is forced to look inward by the Brexit-obsessed Government of the UK.”
Westminster has repeatedly rejected attempts by the Scottish Government to secure the necessary powers to hold another independence referendum, with senior ministers and Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the focus should be on recovery from Covid-19.
Speaking from Bute House in Edinburgh as the agreement was announced, Sturgeon added: “This agreement is not about making (another independence referendum) more likely, I think it makes it harder and indeed impossible on any democratic basis for a UK Government to resist the right of the Scottish people to choose their own future.
“The three of us standing here and our respective parties want that future to be an independent one, but the core principle of democracy is that it should not be us or any other politician who decides the future – that should be and will be, in my view, a matter for the Scottish people.”
A UK Government spokeswoman poured cold water on the idea of another vote.
She said: “We are currently recovering from the worst public health crisis in a century. Now is not the time to get into an all-consuming constitutional debate.
“The pandemic has created immense challenges for our country. We need to be laser-focused on getting our NHS back to full fitness, on getting the over half a million people who’ve lost their job back into work, catching up our young people on the education they’ve missed, and getting support to the increasing number of people struggling with poor mental health right now.
“Our full focus must be on recovering from these challenges that the pandemic has created.
“We want to work hand in hand on this mission with all the devolved administrations, including the Scottish Government, because we’ll recover faster and stronger if we work together.”