Nicola Sturgeon has launched a fresh drive for independence after announcing plans for a second referendum within the next two years if Brexit goes ahead.

She said a new Holyrood bill would pave the way for “a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation” before the Scottish election in 2021.

The framework legislation, which the First Minister will ask MSPs to pass this year, will set out the rules and regulations for a new vote.

However, she admitted the UK Government would first have to give  consent, by transferring powers under a so-called Section 30 order, before a referendum could take place.

With Theresa May making it clear she will refuse any such request, the Tories dubbed Ms Sturgeon’s plan “the bill to nowhere” and a waste of taxpayers’ time and money. 

SNP sources suggested a minority Labour administration under Jeremy Corbyn might permit a vote, but any leader would be reluctant to have their premiership dominated by constitutional issues in light of Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon was also accused of “devaluing” her office by using it to promote independence and reassure her impatient activists before this weekend’s SNP conference.

After the statement, Ms Sturgeon’s husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, launched a fundraising website called, which had previously belonged to the failed Yes Scotland campaign of 2014.

It said the First Minister had given “new impetus to our campaigning” and appealed for cash to help the SNP win the EU election on May 23.

It also asked for money to send all 2.4 million households an economic case for leaving the UK called An Independent Scotland: Household Guide. 

SNP members are due to decide on Saturday which currency an 
independent Scotland would use.

In a coordinated move, a new “non-party, civic organisation” for independence called Voices for Scotland will be launched today by the Scottish Independence Convention.

It says its aim is “big, open conversations about Scotland’s future”. 

But in a sign of division within the wider Yes movement over the efficacy of Mrs Sturgeon’s plan, the influential pro-independence website Wings Over Scotland was scathing.

It called her bill a “stalling exercise” designed to appease SNP members by holding out the hope of a referendum before 2021, while offering nothing concrete to bring it about. 

Author Stuart Campbell said: “In short, nothing changed. The SNP is still frozen in the headlights, hoping for some sort of deliverance to show up from an external source.”

Scottish Socialist Party co-convener Colin Fox, who was part of Yes 
Scotland in 2014, added: “The First Minister continues to prevaricate over IndyRef2 and seems at a loss to make a more compelling case for Independence than hitherto. It looks more like a tool of party management than a step to winning independence.”

Ms Sturgeon also announced a Citizens’ Assembly, based on examples in Ireland, in which a cross-section of Scots under an independent chair would debate Scotland’s future. But she failed to say if it would shape the next independence prospectus.

Brexit Secretary Michael Russell will also ask the other party leaders at Holyrood to enter cross-party talks on devolving more powers.

The First Minister urged the parties to consider the challenges posed by Brexit “openly”, not dig in behind a “fixed position”, but the Tories said they would boycott the exercise.

Backed by a 69-59 vote of MSPs, Ms Sturgeon first requested a Section 30 order for a second referendum in March 2017, but Mrs May refused.

After SNP losses in the snap 2017 general election, Ms Sturgeon “reset” her plans, and promised a “precise timescale” on Indyref2 by autumn of 2018, when the terms of Brexit were supposed to be clear. However she repeatedly delayed an announcement because of Brexit uncertainty.

Although that uncertainty remains, Ms Sturgeon said she could not wait “indefinitely” to protect Scotland’s interests.

She said Brexit threatened Scotland’s economy and its workforce, and hence the tax revenues needed to pay for vital services such as health and education.

She did not offer a date, or explain how she could extract a Section 30 order from London, but said preparations needed to get underway to allow a vote by 2021. 

She claimed most Scots wanted a vote on independence “although opinions vary on timing”. Recent polls suggest most Scots oppose independence and oppose a vote in the short-term, although a majority would accept one after a decade.

She told MSPs: “One point of clarity has surely emerged over the past three years, even for the most ardent opponent of Scottish independence: the Westminster system of government simply does not serve Scotland’s interests and the devolution settlement in its current form is now seen to be utterly inadequate to the task of protecting those interests. In other words, the status quo is broken.”

She went on: “My job as First Minister is to reach a judgment, not simply in my party’s interest but in the national interest. In doing so, a key priority is ensuring that we learn the lessons of Brexit. 

“To rush into an immediate decision before a Brexit path has been determined would not allow an informed choice to be made. However, if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests, we cannot wait indefinitely. 

“That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered later in the lifetime of this Parliament

“If Scotland is taken out of the EU, the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us. That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage that Brexit will do.”

However she acknowledged Holyrood could not hold currently a referendum.

She said: “We do not need a transfer of power such as a Section 30 order to pass such a framework bill, though we would need it to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum. 

“The UK Government’s current position is that it will not agree to transfer power, but I believe that that position will prove to be unsustainable. 

“By making progress with primary legislation first, we will not squander valuable time now in a standoff with a UK Government that might soon be out of office. 

“We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point during or shortly after the bill’s passage, on the basis that it will be exercised when this Parliament - and no other - considers it right to offer the people of Scotland a choice.”

Western Isles SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil predicted a referendum in autumn 2020, telling the Herald it was good that the First Minister had “put the focus back on independence” after appearing to prioritise a People’s Vote. 

His SNP colleague, Tommy Sheppard, the MP for Edinburgh East, added: “There is no point waiting until disaster happens before planning how to survive it. 
“Independence offers Scotland the best way to survive Brexit and, if nothing changes at Westminster, we need to be ready to move fast.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said the 2014 No vote should be respected, as both sides said they would do that and “that is what needs to happen”.

Acting Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said that, despite her spokesman describing it as “inclusive, the First Minister’s speech was “inherently divisive”.

He said: “Astonishingly, the First Minister thinks the way in which we come together is for the people of Scotland to be plunged into another divisive referendum within the next 18 months. 

“It is a ridiculous and even disgraceful skewing of her priorities with the real priorities of the country. 

“The SNP’s plan is clearly to divide families, workplaces and communities all over again, and for the foreseeable future. That is not what the majority of Scotland wants.

“People have had enough of constitutional politics and division. Yet, with the SNP, more of this is now inevitable.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “The timing of this statement is nothing to do with where we are in the chaos of Brexit. It has nothing to do with where the polls are on the creation of a separate Scottish state. 

“The timing of the statement has everything to do with the First Minister’s party conference taking place in just three days’ time. The First Minister is using this parliamentary platform as a party platform and, in doing that, she is devaluing the office that she holds.”

“The First Minister knows fine well that there is no evidence whatsoever that the people of Scotland want another independence referendum, and that is no wonder when the chaos of Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving a political and economic union.” 

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: “The First Minister hasn’t done the one decent thing that people in Scotland want her to do, which is to take her campaign for independence off the table.

“Nicola Sturgeon should look at the damage caused by Brexit and the division it has caused and learn a lesson. Breaking up is hard to do.

”The last thing the country needs is another divisive independence campaign. We should not repeat the mistakes of Brexit. The First Minister should make it stop now.”

Greens MSP Alison Johnstone said: “We have always believed that Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands, as an independent nation at the heart of Europe. The Brexit shambles has only confirmed our belief that we would be far better governing ourselves.”

She welcomed the Citizens’ Assembly, but warned it must not “simply be a talking shop” and said her party would put pressure on SNP ministers to ensure the new body shaped government policy.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “People in Scotland voted decisively in 2014 to remain part of the UK, on a promise the referendum would settle the issue for a generation.

“Instead of respecting that result, Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum. The UK Government will stand up for them.  

“Nicola Sturgeon needs to listen to the views of the Scottish people and concentrate on improving Scotland’s economy and schools, not continually trying to orchestrate upheaval and division.”

Caithness LibDem MP Jamie Stone said the First Minister was the “hostage of the extremist wing of her party”.

Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray added: “Nationalism is killing our country but the SNP will not stop until it gets what it wants at any cost. It’s a grievo-max agenda.”