NICOLA Sturgeon is expected to launch a fresh push for independence 'within weeks' as a new poll suggests support for a second referendum within five years has risen to 55 per cent.

After the SNP’s 11th consecutive election win in a row on Thursday, the First Minister is preparing to publish a referendum bill and a series of papers making the case for leaving the UK.

The Herald revealed last month that the legislation would not be tabled in Holyrood in the weeks leading up to the May 5 poll, but today the Sunday Times says sources have told the paper the bill will have to be brought forward soon if the timetable for a referendum by the end of next year is to be met.

Civil servants are currently working on updating the case for independence put to voters in 2014 to take in Brexit, the time an independent Scotland would take to become an EU state and border arrangements with the UK - which accounts for about 60 per cent of Scottish exports.

READ MORE: SNP accused of 'managing decline' ahead of independence vote

There are also questions surrounding the currency an independent Scotland would adopt, defence policy, and how it would balance a multibillion-pound gap between its public spending and tax revenues.

The latest Panelbase survey of 1,009 voters for The Sunday Times, conducted from April 26-29, found that demand for a second referendum remained strong - though less than a quarter of those polled favoured one within 12 months. The First Minister wants the vote to be held by the end of 2023. 

The Panelbase survey found 24 per cent backed a vote within the next 12 months — up five points from 19 per cent last November, with 31 per cent backing one in the next two to five years (down 3). However, 45 per cent of those polled said that a fresh vote should not be held in the next few years (down 2).

The poll has support for independence itself unchanged since November at 49 per cent among those likely to vote and when undecideds are excluded, with support for the Union at 51 per cent.

Taking undecideds into account, 47 per cent of those likely to vote back independence, 49 per cent are opposed and 5 per cent don’t know.

A separate poll by Survation found 29 per cent supported having a second independence referendum next year, while 60 per cent said another vote should not be held.

It also found that among those who voted for the SNP in last year’s Holyrood election, 36 per cent said there should not be a second referendum next year.

READ MORE: UK ministers dismiss Sinn Fein call for united Ireland vote

Asked what the Scottish Government’s top three priorities should be, only one-in-ten said an independence referendum – far behind the NHS (61 per cent), economy and jobs (48 per cent), Covid-19 recovery (30 per cent), education (26 per cent), and housing (21 per cent).

Survation polled more than 1,000 adults in Scotland for pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union in the run-up to last week’s council elections.

Using the question ‘should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?’, 58 per cent of respondents said they would vote to remain and 42 per cent said they would vote to leave.

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of Yes voters in 2014 said they would now vote to remain part of the UK.

Asked why they had changed their mind – 72 per cent stated the stability of the UK economy was a reason, while 70 per cent selected Ms Sturgeon’s performance as First Minister, and 66 per cent said it was the importance of protecting public services.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Whatever SNP politicians claim about the council election results, it is clear that the people of Scotland do not support their timetable for a divisive second referendum next year.

“Voters want the government to prioritise what really matters to them – not the SNP’s obsession with constitutional division.

“And once again, this poll has confirmed that a significant majority of people in Scotland want to remain part of the UK.

“Scotland’s best days are ahead of us as part of the UK, ensuring we can bring communities together and use the strength of our shared economy to invest more in the NHS, schools and local services.”

The Holyrood referendum bill could be challenged in the Supreme Court with experts split on whether the Scottish Parliament has legal competence to legislate on the constitution.

Boris Johnson has ruled out agreeing to a second vote and to hand powers to Holyrood following the process that took place ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Interviewed on the BBC today the SNP deputy leader at Westminster Kirsten Oswald would not say if she was confident there would be an independence vote next year.

But she claimed that last week’s local election results showed a real appetite for a fresh vote.

Ms Oswald, the MP for East Renfrewshire, told The Sunday Show on BBC Scotland that she looked forward to movement in the coming months.

She said: “[The election] does send us a clear signal that people have a real appetite to look to the future, and a better future that independence will bring.”

She said polls that suggested the same 55 to 45 No-Yes split as in 2014 did not mean the country was stuck on the issue of the constitution. “I think it’s a mistake for anybody to suggest we are stuck. The people of Scotland are entitled to their democratically held views,” she said.

Ms Oswald said, however, that it was not for the Conservatives to decide if a referendum could take place.

“I think we absolutely are on the move towards a referendum and the first minister has been very clear on our position in terms of timing and what we would like to see — and we have a mandate for that as well, don’t forget,” she said.

“I look forward to things cranking up and I would reflect again it is absolutely not democratically possible for the Conservatives to keep suggesting that this won’t happen. it is not up to them, it’s up to the people of Scotland.”

The SNP won 453 seats in the local elections, 22 more than in 2017, and well ahead of Labour which finished second with 282 councillors (up 20), overtaking the Conservatives who suffered big losses on 214 ( down 63) which Scots Tory leader, Douglas Ross, partly blamed on “partygate”. Ross is expected to fight on.

In the coming days the parties will consider minority rule in local authorities where no overall majority was secured, and the role of the Greens could be crucial after they more than doubled their tally of councillors to 35, beating the SNP’s Glasgow city council leader, Susan Aitken, in first preference votes.

Visiting Dundee yesterday Sturgeon said that she was “open” to replicating her SNP/Greens power-sharing agreement at Holyrood in council chambers, but would leave decisions to local leaders. 

Labour may be tempted to try to strike a deal with the Greens in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest council, after coming within one seat of catching the SNP, which has run the city since 2017.

The independence policy papers to win over more hearts and minds to the cause will be published in stages over the coming months. They will address post-Brexit challenges for movement, currency, pensions, borders, non-nuclear defence and Scotland’s place in Europe and the world.

It emerged after a freedom of information request published last month revealed that 14 civil servants were co-ordinating work on an independence prospectus.

The SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, signalled that energy policy was likely to be at the heart of the economic strategy.

He said: “Post the pandemic we need to get on and have a conversation with the Scottish people. We need to accelerate the drive to deliver green energy and that green investment policy in an independent Scotland will tackle the scourge of poverty that has scarred the country for generations.”