NICOLA Sturgeon has said she intends to hold a second independence referendum on October 19 next year if the UK Supreme Court says she has the power to do so.

The First Minister said that if the court refused it would be “the fault of Westminster legislation” and she would fight the next general election as a “de facto referendum” on the single issue of independence.

If the SNP won a majority of votes cast, it would regard it as a mandate to open independence negotiations with London - however the UK Government could simply refuse to cooperate.

Ms Sturgeon said the Lord Avdocate, the Scottish Government’s most senior law officer, has already started the process of seeking a view from the Supreme Court and that papers were being served on the UK Government this afternoon.

She said asking the Court’s view would pre-empt a legal challenge by the UK Government and bring clarity to the question of whether Holyrood has the power to stage Indyref2.

She published a five-page Scottish Independence Referendum Bill - effectively her second draft referendum bill in barely a year - on the Government's website, but crucially did not introduce it to parliament.

She said that if the Supreme Court agreed the Bil was within Holyrood’s powers, she would then introduce it and pass it through Holyrood with the support of the Greens.

She said she wanted the process to be “lead to a lawful constitutional referendum and for that to take place on the 19th of October 2020”. 

She said: “That is what we are preparing for. But if the law says that is not possible, the general election will be a de facto referendum. Either way, the people of Scotland will have their say.”

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, a hearing would probably take place in September or October, and is is understood the UK Government would participate. 

But a recent legal case suggests the Court may be reluctant to take a view on a draft bill rather than one that has been passed by Holyrood, as legislation is invariably amended as it goes through parliament.

Independence campaigner Martin Keatings asked the Court of Session last year to declarre whether Holyrood had the power to hold an independence referendum without the consent of the UK Government.

He lost after being told his case was "hypothetical and premature", with judges noting that even if there had been a referendum bill at that point, it could have been amended or fallen.

Mr Keatings also lost an appeal on the action, with Scotland's most senior judge, the Lord President Lord Carloway, ruling: “A draft Bill has no legal status. If introduced, a Bill may or may not be passed by the Parliament, depending upon that institution’s composition.

"If a Bill is introduced, it may or may not be in the form which is contained in the draft. No matter what its initial form, it may be amended." 

The 2014 independence referendum was based on agreement between the Scottish and UK governments and the transfer of powers to stage the vote via a so-called Section 30 order.

Ms Sturgeon asked Boris Johnson for a fresh Section 30 order after the 2019 general election, but he refused in early January 2020, saying the No result of 2014 was a “once in a generation event” and he would not transfer any powers leading to Indyref2.

Earlier this month, Ms Sturgeon published the first instalment of a new prospectus for independence, but refused to discuss the timing of legislation on which to hold it.

She admitted she may have to proceed in the absence of a Section 30 order, something she has previously resisted, warning it could be a backward step.

In today’s statement, the First Minister said she was writing to Mr Johnson today making clear she was “ready and willing to negotiate the terms of a Section 30 offer with him”.

She said: “The UK and Scottish governments should be sitting down together, responsibly agreeing a process, including a section 30 order, that allows the Scottish people to decide.

“That would be the democratic way to proceed. It would be based on precedent.

“And it would put the legal basis of a referendum beyond any doubt.”

However she said she was not willing to allow “Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any Prime Minister” and so she would not rely on a Section 30 order.

She said: “The issue of independence cannot be suppressed. 

“It must be resolved democratically. And that must be through a process that is above reproach and commands confidence.

“That is why I am setting out today the actions the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate will take, in the absence of a section 30 order, to secure Scotland’s right to choose.

“I can announce, first of all, that the Scottish Government is today publishing the ‘Scottish Independence Referendum Bill’.

“In common with the 2014 referendum - indeed, in common with the Brexit referendum and the referendum to establish this Parliament - the independence referendum proposed in the Bill will be consultative, not self-executing.

“The Bill states that the question on the ballot paper should be - just as it was in 2014 - ‘should Scotland be an independent country’.

“There has been much commentary in recent days to the effect that a consultative referendum would not have the same status as the vote in 2014.

“That is simply wrong, factually and legally.

“The status of the referendum proposed in this Bill is exactly the same as the referendums of 1997, 2014 and 2016.

“The Bill includes the proposed date on which the referendum should be held.

“I can announce that the Scottish Government is proposing that the independence referendum be held on 19 October 2023.

“We must seek now to accelerate to the point when we have legal clarity; legal fact. And crucially, in doing so establish and safeguard the ability of this Parliament to deliver a referendum on the date proposed.

“The Lord Advocate has agreed to make a reference of the provisions in the Bill to the Supreme Court.

“I can confirm that the reference will be filed with the Supreme Court this afternoon.

“Obviously, it is this government’s hope that the question in this Bill, proposing a referendum that is consultative, not self-executing, and which would seek to ascertain the views of the Scottish people for or against independence, will be deemed to be within the legislative competence of this Parliament.

“If that outcome is secured, there will be no doubt whatsoever that the referendum is lawful. And I can confirm that the government will then immediately introduce the Bill and ask Parliament to pass the it on a timescale that allows the referendum to proceed on 19 October 2023.

“It is, of course, possible that the Supreme Court will decide that the Scottish Parliament does not have power to legislate for even a consultative referendum. Obviously, that would not be the clarity we hope for.

“But if that is what the law establishing this Parliament really means, it is better to have that clarity sooner rather than later.

“Because what it will clarify is this: any notion of the UK as a voluntary union of nations is a fiction. Any suggestion that the UK is a partnership of equals is false.

“There would be few stronger or more powerful arguments for independence than that.

“And it would not be the end of the matter. Far from it. Democracy demands that people must have their say.

“I want the process set in train today to lead to a lawful, constitutional referendum and for that to take place on 19 October 2023.

“But if the law says that is not possible, the General Election will be a ‘de facto’ referendum.

“Either way, the people of Scotland will have their say.

“My determination is to secure a process that allows the people of Scotland - whether yes, no, or yet to be decided - to express their views in a legal, constitutional referendum, so that the majority view can be established fairly and democratically.”

She went on: “Respect for the rule of law means that a referendum must be lawful.

“That, for me, is a matter of principle. But it is also a matter of practical reality.

“An unlawful referendum would not be deliverable. Even if it was, it would lack effect.

“The outcome would not be recognized by the international community.

“Bluntly, it would not lead to Scotland becoming independent.

“It is axiomatic that a referendum must be lawful."

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater added: “Today we have set out the path to fulfilling our democratic mandate by delivering an independence referendum.

“The people of Scotland have repeatedly returned pro-independence majorities to both the Scottish and UK Parliaments. Their democratic will must be fulfilled.

“I am confident that when given the choice the people will choose to take our future in our own hands by becoming an independent European country.”

However Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the First Minister was turning Holyrood into a “Do-Nothing Parliament” that neglected the people’s real priorities by obsessing over another referendum.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon is at it again. Her eye is off the ball once more.

“The real priorities of people across Scotland are on the back burner. Instead, the First Minister is putting her plans to divide Scotland front and centre.

“Nicola Sturgeon has shown again today that the SNP’s selfish obsession with another divisive referendum is always their top priority. 

“She will use government time and resources to further her plan to break up the country, just when we need to be pulling together and working as one.

“All our focus should be on tackling the huge challenges we face right now – helping families with their bills, supporting frontline services and creating good jobs.

“A potentially illegal referendum next year is the wrong priority for Scotland. It would distract attention away from our recovery. It will damage efforts to rebuild our country after Covid. It is the last thing a clear majority of Scottish people want.

“The First Minister speaks of fear – but what concerns us all is the price Scotland pays for her continued obsession with another referendum.

“So we won’t play Nicola Sturgeon’s games. We won’t take part in a pretend poll when there’s real work to be done. Real work on the global cost-of-living crisis. Real work to invest in public services. Real work to rebuild our economy.” 

Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar said: “The First Minister gave her game away in this statement - this is actually about general election and the SNP having some relevance in it. It is not actually about the Scottish people.

“It’s important to recognise the context of the election campaign last year. We were still a country living under Covid restrictions. Over 10,000 of our fellow citizens had lost their lives.

“Nicola Sturgeon said during that campaign that people who didn’t support a referendum or independence through the recovery should vote for her safe in the knowledge that that would be her priority. Covid hasn’t gone away and our recovery hasn’t even started.

“The pandemic Nicola that said she wanted pull us through is gone, and the partisan Nicola Sturgeon, that wants to divide our country, is back – pursuing a referendum that two thirds of Scots don’t want now."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Here we are again and what an appalling waste of energy and focus this is. Frankly I can think of better uses of our time and I am not alone.

“I’m sure that those waiting for cancer care, in the longest queue on record can think of better uses of our time.

“Those children suffering long Covid, left disappointed after they waited to meet the First Minister in the cold outside parliament this afternoon can think of better uses of our time.

“The Island ferry passengers; the Ukrainians stuck in hotels; those victims of violent and sexual crime left waiting for justice, can all think of better uses for our time.

“The First Minister is putting disquiet in her party ahead the needs of this country.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Nicola Sturgeon is acting against the will of the people of Scotland.

“Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of us do not want a second referendum.

“The First Minister’s announcement is a disgraceful waste of resources and public money.

“The job of government is to focus on the people’s priorities – cutting NHS waiting times, improving education standards, tackling the climate emergency, creating more affordable housing, investing in social care, and growing our economy.

“Rather than divide the people of Scotland, as part of the UK we can invest more in public services and bring our communities together.”

Alba party leader Alex Salmond welcomed "some clarity of purpose on independence" but said Yes movement unity was needed for success. 

He said: "We need a united movement and grassroots campaign to deliver success.

"In particular, voices outwith Government will be needed so that the cause of independence is not weighed down by the day-to-day troubles of the SNP/Green coalition. 

"We should not give up on bending Boris Johnson to the people’s will on a section 30 Order. There has never been a weaker UK Prime Minister.

"But that will require a concerted campaign of popular, parliamentary and diplomatic initiatives. And it is urgency which is required to stop Westminster taking Scotland to the cleaners on a daily basis. 

"The question of Scottish sovereignty can also not simply be left to the UK Supreme Court.

"The concept of using the UK General Election as a backstop will cause a wry smile to those within the SNP and in the wider movement who have been calling for that for the last five years.

"However, even then, we need to be prepared with the popular campaign which will be required to force recognition of Scotland”s Claim of Right”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are clear that now is not the time to be talking about another independence referendum.

“People across Scotland want to see both of their governments working together on the issues that matter to them. That includes tackling the cost of living, ensuring energy security, leading the international response against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing our economy. That remains our priority.

“A decision has been taken by the First Minister to publish a Bill, and the Lord Advocate has made a referral to the UK Supreme Court. UK Government law officers will now consider their response.”