Nicola Sturgeon intends to set out her legislative timetable for a second independence referendum in “the coming weeks”.
Speaking to the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” show, the First Minister said Scotland faced a choice between deciding its own future and the “the chaos” of Westminster.
There is a pro-independence majority of MSPs at Holyrood but the power to hold a legally-binding referendum rests with the UK Government.
Sturgeon said: “The preparatory work of that (holding a second referendum) is under way right now. We haven’t decided on the date we would seek to introduce the bill, we’ll decide that in the coming weeks.
“But what I have said and I’ll happily say again to you right now is my intention is to take the steps that will facilitate a referendum happening before the end of 2023.
“That’s the proposition that just short of a year ago that I fought an election on – was re-elected as First Minister, my party was re-elected with a historically-high share of the vote – this is about democracy by allowing the people of Scotland to choose our own future.
“And for goodness sake, when we look at everything that is happening – has been happening over years now – in Westminster, the chaos, the instability, the unpredictability, then I think there are a growing number of people in Scotland who think actually we can do much better.”
The First Minister pledged at the SNP conference last November that in 2022 she would start the process to enable a Scottish independence referendum to be held before the end of 2023.
That announcement coincided with a new poll by Ipsos MORI for STV News that showed support for Scottish independence had risen to its highest level for a year.
Backing for ‘Yes’ stood at 55% – up five points compared to the previous Ipsos MORI poll just before the Holyrood election in May.
Excluding undecideds, it suggested the result of the 2014 referendum could be reversed if another was held now.
Under current arrangements, a request for a section 30 order – a mechanism in the Scotland Act 1998 – would need to be made and granted by the UK Government to enable a referendum to be held.
The mechanism allows for legislative authority to be granted to the Scottish Parliament in certain areas either temporarily or permanently.
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for Covid recovery, said: “Nicola Sturgeon throws caution to the wind when it comes to her obsession with another divisive independence referendum.
“It’s reckless to try and split up the country when there’s an economic crisis facing working people and businesses. But as we know well by now, Nicola Sturgeon’s first, last and only real priority is independence.
“The SNP are out of touch with the Scottish public’s priorities. Instead of trying to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom, they should be focusing on our economic recovery from Covid and protecting public services.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The First Minister promised to put the recovery first.
“If that was the case she would be focusing on the A&E figures currently the worst on record, the 275,000 operations lost to the pandemic, the social care system on its knees or the soaring attainment gap in schools. We heard nothing about those this morning.
“Our country has been held back for too long by the clash of nationalisms. Scotland needs new hope for the climate, for health, for our young people and our businesses.”