NICOLA Sturgeon has given a strong hint that she will push for a second independence referendum before the next Holyrood election in 2021.

The First Minister told a foreign newspaper not to forget she was “elected on a very clear mandate” to have another referendum if Scotland was dragged out the EU against its will.

Asked if her government might wait until after 2021 before pressing the UK to grant another vote, she replied: “I wouldn’t say that at all.”

She said she was “as convinced as it is possible to be that, if Scotland is given the opportunity to choose again, it will choose independence”.

Her SNP deputy Keith Brown also said last night that this week’s chaos at Westminster over Brexit may prove the point at which momentum for independence became “unstoppable”.

He said: “The last few days have proved beyond question that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland - the complete meltdown over Brexit has shown that clearer than ever. The UK Parliament is an unstable, undemocratic institution foisting an unwanted Brexit on Scotland.

“The whole Westminster system is broken. It’s time Scotland took our own decisions.”

The First Minister has repeatedly delayed her long-awaited update on a referendum because of Brexit uncertainty, promising an announcement "in a few weeks" for several months.

Ms Sturgeon says she has a “triple lock mandate” for a referendum based on SNP wins in the last Holyrood and general elections, and a 2017 vote by MSPs.

Her apparent reluctance to use it since SNP reversals at the last election has frustrated parts of the Yes movement, including some of her own MPs.

Her mandate comment was made in an unreported interview with Canada’s National Post last month in Toronto, a meeting the SNP Government revealed this week after a freedom of information request.

Ms Sturgeon was asked where her government would wait until after the 2021 “before pressing the British Parliament to grant another referendum”.

She replied: “I wouldn’t say that at all. By definition, I haven’t come to a view on timing, so by definition I can’t really answer. But don’t forget the government I lead was elected on a very clear mandate to have another independence referendum in the circumstances that Scotland was to be taken out of the EU against our will. So I wouldn’t assume that it will be necessarily be after the next Scottish election.”

Although the UK government has said it would reject a referendum request, Ms Sturgeon could use a refusal to whip up SNP votes at the 2021 poll.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “The majority of voters in Scotland don’t want a divisive second independence referendum for at least ten years.“

It would be an act of extreme recklessness to hold an unwanted and unnecessary second independence referendum. Every single opinion poll for over a year has shown that the people of Scotland know we are stronger together.”

Scottish LibDem constitutional affairs spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain said: “The First Minister seems to have missed the fact that people are sick of constitutional upheaval.

“The SNP have clearly learnt nothing from the chaos of Brexit because they’re still as intent as ever on replicating that chaos on an even greater scale.”

Recent polls have suggested most Scots would prefer independence over any form of Brexit, but also that a majority oppose a referendum within 10 years.

The SNP is due to discuss its economic and currency plans for an independent Scotland at its conference next month.