NICOLA Sturgeon has admitted there may not be a second independence referendum this year, as she urged her supporters to remain patient and "stay the course".

Despite previously giving the impression she had a plan to overcome UK Government resistance, the First Minister said there were no “short cuts or clever wheezes”.

HeraldScotland: Camley's cartoon: Poll puts Yes ahead.Camley's cartoon: Poll puts Yes ahead.

She asked supporters not to give in to “impatience and frustration”.

Her speech, which will have disappointed many of her party members and Yes supporters, led to a furious backlash from one of the most powerful pro-independence websites.

The Wings Over Scotland blog called her "the betrayer" and said she should resign as SNP leader.

The First Minister has said she wants Indyref2 in late 2020, citing SNP gains in the general election as proof of her mandate.

However Boris Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the power needed for a legal referendum, saying the No vote of 2014 was a ‘once in a generation’ decision.

In a speech to activists, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged many of her supporters would be frustrated, but her goal was to deliver independence on a lasting legal basis, even if it took longer than she hoped. 

She said: "This isn’t caution talking. It’s realism.

"For me to pretend that there are shortcuts or clever wheezes that can magically overcome the obstacles we face would be to do the independence cause a disservice.

"My job instead is to offer a path that can deliver independence.

"To achieve independence, a referendum, whenever it happens - whether it is this year as I want, or after the next Scottish election – must be legal and legitimate.

"That is a simple fact. It must demonstrate clearly that there is majority support for independence. 

"And its legality must be beyond doubt. Otherwise the outcome, even if successful, would not be recognised by other countries.

"And the best way to achieve that, even though it may not be ideal, is to reach agreement with UK Government on a transfer of power to the Scottish Parliament, just as we did for 2014."

She announced the creation of a new constitutional convention to restate Scotland’s right to determine its own form of government.

She said she would also ask the Electoral Commission to retest the question used in 2014 to check if it was still the best option in case there was Indyref2.

The Scottish Government will also publish a series of papers on independence - rather than a new White Paper of the kind seen before the 2014 vote.

The SNP will double its campaign spending to “ramp up” its pro-independence efforts.

Ms Sturgeon ruled out a consultative referendum in defiance of UK Government opposition in the short-term, as it was legally risky.

READ MORE: Neil Mackay: Why Brexit day will teach this Yes voter hard truths about independence

However she said she did not rule out forever if the UK kept blocking another referendum.

She said: "It has been suggested, though, that in the absence of such an agreement, it might be legal for the Scottish Parliament to hold a consultative referendum - to establish the opinion of the Scottish people even though agreement would still be required to implement a pro independence outcome. Let me address that. 

"The issue of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament - or instead leaves open scope for a non-binding consultative vote - has never been tested in court.  

"That means it cannot be said definitively that it would not be legal, but equally it cannot be described as being beyond legal doubt. 

"If a proposal for a referendum on that basis was brought forward it would be challenged in court.

"If a court ruled that it was legal, it wouldn’t be a “wildcat referendum” as our opponents like to brand it – it would be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament.

"Now, should the UK Government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where it is necessary for this issue to be tested.

"I am not ruling that out. But I also have to be frank.

"The outcome would be uncertain. There would be no guarantees.

"It could move us forward - but equally it could set us back.

"So my judgement at this stage is that we should use our energies differently. 

"We must focus on building and winning the political case for independence."

She urged Yes supporters to show respect towards No voters.

“We must make our case with passion, but also with patience and respect,” she said.

The First Minister set out her long-awaited ‘next steps’ at an event for SNP activists and parliamentarians in Edinburgh hours before Scotland leaves the EU against its will.

She said Brexit was a “pivotal moment for the UK and Scotland” and although the mood in Scotland was “sadness tinged with anger”, she wanted to focus on hope for a better country.

She said Scotland’s future as a member of the European family of nations was now only possible with independence.

She said she wanted to focus on the work that was still to be done to persuade a majority of people to vote Yes.

She cited this week’s rejection of her plans for devolved immigration and a Scottish visa after Brexit as an example of “the deaf ear of Westminster” damaging Scotland.

READ MORE: Holyrood votes in favour of second independence referendum

She said there was a “cast-iron” mandate from the electorate and Holyrood for Indyref2, and the Tories’ refusal to grant it showed contempt for democracy.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “This was a downbeat statement from First Minister faced with the reality that will be no referendum anytime soon.

“However, Nicola Sturgeon’s determination to plough on with preparations for another vote on independence is predictable, depressing and entirely wrong-headed.  

“People across Scotland are sick and tired of her relentless pursuit of a referendum they simply don’t want.

“What people do want is action now to improve education, health, policing and all the other services they rely upon.

“On the day we leave the EU they want a government which focuses on Scotland's economy and jobs.

“And they want Nicola Sturgeon to put her referendum plans where they belong – firmly on the backburner.

“We’ve wasted more than a decade endlessly debating independence. Now we need to put divisive constitutional politics to one side and deal with the real and immediate issues facing Scotland in the 2020s.

“Ms Sturgeon is more than welcome to campaign for independence in her own time.

“But when it comes to being First Minister, it’s surely time for Scotland to demand that she focus on the things that are actually important.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The SNP Leader’s statement will be met with almost universal frustration. 

“People who want the division to stop will be dismayed that Nicola Sturgeon wants yet more constitutional arguments after years of Brexit and independence.

"Independence supporters will feel let down with promises of yet more talking shops and a spin-job. This was supposed to be a game changing speech but all it’s changed is the name of the pointless talking shop.

"The priority should be working together in partnership to reform the United Kingdom and keep us close to our European friends and neighbours.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This was nothing but an opportunistic speech designed to distract from the SNP’s catastrophic failings in government.

“It is sickening that Nicola Sturgeon is willing to neglect struggling schools and hospitals, and waste even more public money on her never-ending campaign to divide the people of Scotland.

She even failed to rule out a Catalan-style ‘consultative’ referendum that would result in an expensive legal battle.

“She has shamed the office of First Minister as she throws crumbs to SNP members, and has clearly learned nothing from the past few years. People are crying out for unity, but she wants to double her efforts to tear communities apart.

“She should remember she was elected as the First Minister for everyone in Scotland and get on with the job of fixing our broken public services. Scotland deserves better.”