Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that next year she will start the process to enable a Scottish independence referendum to be held before the end of 2023.
The First Minister set out the timeline as she urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow such a vote to go ahead.
Under current arrangements, a request for a section 30 order – a mechanism in the Scotland Act 1998 – would need to be made and granted 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.
It is necessary for the order as “the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England”, as stated in the Scotland Act, is a reserved matter.
Delivering her speech to conference, Sturgeon said that the SNP will “set out afresh the positive case for independence”.
“Next year, Covid permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest,” the SNP leader said.
“In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023.
“And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.
“We will outline the opportunities and advantages that independence will open up.
“The opportunity to repair the damage of Covid – including the fiscal challenges it has created for all countries – in a way that aligns with our values and priorities as a nation.
“To use our financial and human resources to tackle poverty and give young people a better life.
“To use our vast natural resources to help safeguard our planet and secure green jobs for the future.
“And to re-join the European family of nations, so that we can expand not narrow our horizons, and grow our trade across the whole of the continent.”
Sturgeon said her message to Boris Johnson is that if he has any respect for democracy, he will let the people decide”.
“We will also be candid about the challenges the transition to independence will present, and set out clearly how we can and will overcome them,” she said.
“And then, friends, we will ask the people to decide.
“Now, what the UK government’s response to this will be is not up to me, but my message to Prime Minister is this.
“If you have any respect at all for democracy – and if you have any confidence whatsoever in your argument against independence – you too will let the people decide.”