NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted she will remain First Minister until at least 2026 and has set out plans for holding a second referendum.

In an interview with the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, she said she had no intention of quitting, and said her opponents would be "disappointed."

The First Minister said: "It is almost as if my opponents have concluded they can't beat me or remove me from office themselves, so they're kind of crossing their fingers and hoping that I'll remove myself from office.

"But they are going to be really disappointed because I'm going to be around a lot longer.

"I was elected seven months ago, having asked people in Scotland to put their trust in me for a five year term as first minister.

"They gave me that trust and they re-elected me. We face serious times as a country and I intend to fulfil that mandate."

Ms Sturgeon said she had "no intentions of going anywhere right now as First Minister", but that she hoped to still be "relatively young when I get to the point of contemplating other things." 

On Scotland becoming independent, Ms Sturgeon said it was "not up to me" but explained: "I have spent my entire life campaigning for independence. 

"We intend to take the steps that will enble a referendum to happen before the end of 2023."

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland must decide what kind of country it wants to be after the pandemic is over, but stressed she does not want a referendum to be held "while we are still worrying about face coverings and testing ourselves every day".

She was pressed on how she would define the end of the pandemic, which is what Ms Sturgeon previously said would be an appropriate time to start focusing on a second referendum. 

She replied: "There's no single moment in time. I've tried to set this out before.

"It's when we're beyond the acute phase of this; when people like me, in positions like mine, are not having to stand up as I was doing as recently as yesterday and asking people to do unusual and abnormal things just to live their everyday lives.

"We don't want people taking a massive decision about the future of the country while we're still worrying about face coverings and testing ourselves every day before we go places."

She said the independence debate should be "free and open", adding: "Recovery from the pandemic does bring very much to the fore and into focus, what kind of powers a government has, what ability people in Scotland have to choose the direction of the country."

Asked again at what point Ms Sturgeon would judge the pandemic to be over, she said: "That's going to be a judgment that I'll have to take... based on when people aren't living their life under restrictions, when we don't still have hospital wards full of Covid patients, when we're not still in an acute phase of a pandemic." 

READ MORE: 'Depressing and self-indulgent': Pro-union parties on Sturgeon's referendum remarks

Pro-union parties and campaigners have been highly critical of the comments, describing them as "self-indulgent" and "depressing" in statements. 

They have also suggested it shows Ms Sturgeon is not focused on other areas such as education and health.