NICOLA Sturgeon will restart the SNP’s independence campaign in the spring as she confirmed she will “initiate the process” for a re-run of the 2014 referendum to take place “before the end of 2023”.

Speaking at her keynote address at the SNP national conference, the First Minister warned that the nation continuing with its role in the Union under Boris Johnson’s Westminster Government was “not a secure foundation on which Scotland can build a better future”.

Ms Sturgeon told SNP delegates she would “defy anyone to look at the broken, corrupt, self-serving Westminster system that we are currently part of and conclude that it provides a secure basis for the future of Scotland”.

She added that she “would not be discharging my duty to the people of Scotland if I did not seek to keep the promise on which we were elected - to offer the people of Scotland the choice of a better future through independence”.

Addressing a timescale for her plans to hold an independence referendum, the First Minister said: “Next year, Covid permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest.

READ MORE: Scottish Child Payment to double to £20 a week

“In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023.

“And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.”

The First Minister said the new blueprint for independence would outline the “opportunity to repair the damage of Covid”, use Scotland’s “vast natural resources to help safeguard our planet and secure green jobs for the future” and to rejoin the European Union.

Ms Sturgeon admitted the updated plans “will also be candid about the challenges the transition to independence will present, and set out clearly how we can and will overcome them” before putting the proposals to the people of Scotland.

She added: “What the UK Government’s response to this will be is not up to me, but my message to Prime Minister is this – if you have any respect at all for democracy, and if you have any confidence whatsoever in your argument against independence, you too will let the people decide.”

READ MORE: SNP currency plans a 'dangerous experiment', conference warned

The First Minister claimed she is “working in partnership as far as we can” in order to “lay secure foundations on which a better country can be built”.

But she stressed that “the current Westminster Government is not a willing partner”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Instead of helping to lay those foundations, it is undermining them.

“This UK Government is not just seeking to block Scottish democracy and deny Scotland the choice of moving forward to independence. That would be bad enough.

“But worse than just standing in the way of progress, it is trying to force Scottish democracy into reverse.”

She added: “Make no mistake about it – Boris Johnson’s Government is actively eroding the power of our democratically elected Scottish Parliament.

“It has already transferred funding from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster.

“It has torn up the convention that the UK Parliament should not pass laws in devolved policy areas without Holyrood consent.

“And it has passed a law - the Internal Market Act - that the Labour First Minister of Wales has called, and I quote, ‘a smash and grab’ on the devolution settlement.

“This crystallises the choice Scotland faces. If we don’t choose to move our Parliament forward and make it stronger with independence - the Tories will drag it backwards and make it weaker.”

READ MORE: SNP veterans criticise party's lack of progress on independence

The First Minister claimed that the “assault on the Scottish Parliament” is “reflected in the Tories’ wider distain for democracy”.

She added: “Whenever the checks and balances of democracy get in its way, this UK Government will try to overturn them. That is dangerous.

“During the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014 the head of the No campaign dismissed the idea of Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister as a ‘scare story’.

“We’ve been reminded over these past few weeks - and in many different ways - just why anti-independence leaders were so keen to rubbish the prospect of Boris Johnson entering Downing Street.

“The much bigger problem is a Westminster system that enables someone like him to become Prime Minister in the first place.

READ MORE: Omicron Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon calls for PM to roll out 'tougher' travel rules

“That is not a secure foundation on which Scotland can build a better future.”

In her speech, Ms Sturgeon also confirmed the Scottish Child Payment will be doubled from next year and announced an extra £30 million to help GPs provide more face-to-face appointments.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The First Minister’s speech had much to be welcomed, but as ever, the SNP’s obsession with separation dominated. 

“It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible, in the face of a deepening public health crisis, that the focus of the First Minister is once more on sowing division between Scotland and the rest of the UK.”