A SECOND independence referendum will move closer if the new UK Government ignores demands for more Holyrood powers, Nicola Sturgeon has declared.


The First Minister said public opinion would swing behind a re-run of last year's vote if David Cameron failed to "respect" the SNP's call for a range of new powers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

Her call will be given added weight today when a cross-party committee of MSPs is expected to criticise a draft Westminster bill based on the Smith Commission report, which last year set out an extensive package of tax, welfare and borrowing powers to be devolved.

Holyrood's devolution committee will call for the welfare powers agreed by the Government to be extended further, it is understood.

The STUC also threw its weight behind further devolution yesterday, backing calls for control over the minimum wage, trade union and employment law, health and safety law, equalities legislation and some additional benefits to be transferred to Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon used the STUC's backing to put pressure on Labour to support what she described as a "growing consensus" around further devolution.

She said it would be "inexplicable" if Scottish Labour wanted to leave the powers "in the hands of a majority Tory government with no mandate in Scotland".

Ms Sturgeon will raise the issue with the Prime Minister when they meet in Edinburgh tomorrow.

However, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell appeared to rule out any significant shift away from the Smith proposals.

Speaking after an initial meeting with Ms Sturgeon last night, he said: "I made clear we are committed to delivering more devolved powers through the package outlined by the Smith Commission."

He said the plan would make Holyrood "one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world".

In her first statement to MSPs since her party's landslide election victory a week ago, the First Minister repeated her demand for a a range of powers to be devolved immediately, as a stepping stone towards full fiscal autonomy.

She said the Smith Commission recommendation did not go far enough, adding: "The outcome of the election makes abundantly clear that this view is shared by a significant proportion of the Scottish electorate.

"If the Prime Minister and his government mean what they say about respecting the outcome of the election in Scotland, they must now agree with us a process that looks again at the Smith Commission proposals, with a view to extending devolution even further."

She said the election had not given her a direct mandate but insisted one would be held if public support existed.

She added: "What happens to public opinion on this question in the years ahead will depend not just on what the SNP and the Scottish Government do, but also on the respect shown to the decisions the people of Scotland have made.

"How David Cameron, his government and the Westminster system choose to respond to the message Scotland has sent will be crucial to how we move forward."

She said the SNP's victory, winning 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland, gave it a powerful mandate to secure its key manifesto demands.

Rejecting the Conservatives' authority in Scotland, she noted that David Cameron's party recorded its lowest share of the vote north of Border since 1865.

In a clear warning to the Prime Minister, she said Scots would "draw their own conclusions" if the SNP's demands were ignored.

The SNP is keen to delay moves to full fiscal autonomy after economists warned the devo max set up would leave a £7.6 billion hole in Scotland's finances.

Instead it is seeking a package of "priority devolution" including control over National Insurance, worth £9bn in revenues, and corporation tax, which raises a further £2.8bn.

The SNP has proposed targeted cuts to both levies in a bid to boost the economy.

In addition, Ms Sturgeon has called for powers over employment policy, including the minimum wage, equality policy and further elements of the welfare system to be devolved.

Ms Sturgeon met STUC officials yesterday in the first of what will become regular bi-annual meetings.

The Scottish Government and the STUC signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out shared priorities following the election.

General Secretary of the STUC, Grahame Smith said: "The STUC strongly believes the programme of the new UK Government will inevitably result in a weaker economy and a significant increase in inequality.

"The STUC will work with the Scottish Government and other civic organisations to oppose this unnecessary and damaging new dose of austerity and to instead help build a fairer and more equal Scotland."