NICOLA Sturgeon has accused unionist campaigners south of the border of “trying to rig the rules” of a second independence vote.

According to reports, UK Government Cabinet ministers are putting pressure on Boris Johnson to allow Scots living anywhere in the UK to vote in a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum in a bid to firm up the fight to protect the Union.

The Prime Minister is also being urged to recruit former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, to a newly created role of constitutional secretary, The Times reports.

Ms Davidson, who is taking up a place in the House of Lords after quitting Holyrood, would head the pro-Union campaign from inside the UK Government, under the plans.

A former SNP MP who defected to Alex Salmond's Alba Party has pointed the finger at Nicola Sturgeon's Government for the "inexcusable" decision to have "allowed the constitutional debate in Scotland to go cold" following May's election.

In the 2014 referendum, EU and Commonwealth citizens registered to vote in Scotland were able to vote in the independence poll, with the franchise extended to include 16 and 17 year olds.

It is thought the plans could add around 900,000 Scottish-born voters to the franchise in a Scottish independence referendum.

The First Minister has criticised the apparent tactics attempting to change the franchise and suggested the appeal to Mr Johnson from Tory ministers is an admission a second vote on independence will take place.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson urged to let Scots across UK vote on Scottish independence

Writing on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon said: “I see the anti independence campaign is trying to rig the rules of #indyref2 again (tho in doing so they also concede that it’s going to happen).

“Maybe they should just argue their case on its merits and allow everyone who lives in Scotland to decide.”

A UK Government cabinet minister told The Times that “we know Sturgeon will start trying to force another referendum as soon as she thinks it is politically tenable again”, warning “there are things we can and should do now to be ready for her”.

They added: “One thing is to open up eligibility of the vote to all Scots in the UK, not just those living in Scotland. The other is to bring Ruth back into the front line. She is the best pro-Union voice we have.”

The Herald: Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth DavidsonFormer Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson

Another senior Tory figure told the paper: “Independence is behind in the polls now, and Sturgeon is getting flak from her own side for not talking about it since the election.

"We need to get out there on the front foot and start acting like we’re ahead and not just wait for her to catch up again, which was the catastrophic mistake we made after the 2014 referendum.”

The "Union Unit" set up to bolster support for the Union has lost two leaders in the past year and its role has now been passed to a cabinet committee.

With Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, now focusing on the Covid-19 recovery, there is no single senior government figure in charge of trying to shore up support for the Union.

800,000 people who were born in Scotland now live in England and up to 50,000 live in Wales, with the majority estimated to be pro-Union.

Polling expert, Sir John Curtice, has previously calculated that the inclusion of Scots living elsewhere would swing the vote against independence if Scottish voters in Scotland did not get over 54% of the vote.

Liberal Democrat Scottish affairs spokesperson, Wendy Chamberlain, said: "Both the Scottish and UK governments are perfectly content to squabble about referendums until the cows come home.

"The people of Scotland deserve two governments focused on protecting jobs, rebuilding the NHS and helping us to bounce back from the pandemic. Neither the Conservatives nor the SNP have people's best interests at heart."

But Alba MP Kenny MacAskill has claimed the suggestion the franchise could be altered is proof the UK Government is "running scared of the prospect of the people of Scotland choosing their own future".

The Herald: Alba MP Kenny MacAskillAlba MP Kenny MacAskill

He added: “However, while the UK Government are working behind the scenes, the Scottish Government have allowed the constitutional debate in Scotland to go cold, that is inexcusable. 

“Scotland cannot afford to wait until after the full consequences of coronavirus have been realised before progressing the case for independence because to do so would be to keep the powers required to recover in Boris Johnson’s hands instead of being rightly in the hands of the Scottish people. 

“Nicola Sturgeon has already ceded the right and timing of a referendum to Boris Johnson by requiring a S30 order and deferring until covid recovery. This shows she cannot continue her delay or allow the terms of a referendum to be ceded as well”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “The last thing that Scotland needs right now is the uncertainty and division of another independence referendum.

"Everyone should be fully focused on getting out of this pandemic and rebuilding Scotland after Covid.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: "The sole priority of the UK Government is on continuing to roll out the UK’s life-saving vaccine programme and recovering from this health and economic emergency.

"It is our duty and our responsibility to focus entirely on Covid recovery. That is what people in Scotland, rightly, expect."