NICOLA Sturgeon has been unable to set out a timetable for a referendum bill on independence to be published despite insisting there is a “growing sense” the UK is not serving the needs of nations.

The First Minister said she is updating the “very positive case” for Scotland to leave the UK after Sinn Fein won the most seats, 27 out of 90, in last week’s Stormont elections in Northern Ireland.

This entitles Sinn Fein to have one of its representatives take up the post of first minister – which would be the first time a non-unionist politician has held Northern Ireland’s top post.

Meanwhile, local government elections in Scotland saw the SNP emerge again as the winners, with Ms Sturgeon’s party securing more seats on councils than any other party, despite being in government for 15 years.

While Ms Sturgeon admitted there were “different factors at play” in the elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, she claimed it was now “obviously the case that there are very big fundamental questions being asked in every part of the UK, about UK governance in the years ahead”.

She added: “I think there’s a growing sense that the UK in its current state is not serving the needs of Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland or perhaps even England appropriately.

“And I think we will see big changes in the years to come and I’m convinced one of those changes will be Scottish independence.”

She congratulated Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland, on its success, with Ms Sturgeon saying: “For them to become the largest party in Northern Ireland is, as you know, a development of truly historic proportions.”

But she also stressed the importance of parties at Stormont “coming together, working together”, and getting the Northern Irish Executive up and running again.

The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader hailed her own party’s success in the local elections as “astonishing”, saying it was “really quite something” to have such a result after 15 years in power at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon insisted a mandate for a second independence referendum had been won in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, which saw the SNP and the pro-independence Scottish Greens win a majority of seats at Holyrood, with both parties pledging to have a vote on the issue in this parliamentary term.

Ms Sturgeon noted that both the SNP and the Greens had increased their share of the vote in last week’s council elections, as she said work towards a second referendum would continue.

Asked for when a Bill for a future independence referendum could be brought before the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said she would “set that out in due course”.

Any such legislation, however, is almost certain to face legal challenge from the UK Government, who are opposed to the holding of such a vote.

Ms Sturgeon also said her Government would start to set out white papers for independence “in the very near future”.

It has been almost a decade since the previous independence white paper, which contained more than 700 pages, was published, with the First Minister promising the new paper would be “refreshing” and put the “very positive case for independence”.