NICOLA Sturgeon has said she believes there will be a new independence referendum while she is First Minister.

She made the point in an interview yesterday after the SNP’s spring conference held in Aberdeen and it is probably the most explicit she has been about the likelihood of an imminent second vote since last June when she delayed plans for a new vote between this autumn and spring next year.

Asked for her opinion on whether there will or will not be an second vote on independence while she is First Minister, she told Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday: “I think there will be. I think Scotland will become independent. My view is that is the direction of travel.”

Her comment will increase speculation that there could be a new vote within the current parliamentary term which ends in 2021.

Debate has been intensified over the timing of a second referendum, with the First Minister pledging to update Holyrood on her plans in the autumn when there is expected to be more clarity around Brexit and what sort of future relationship the UK will have with the EU.

The timing issue dominated the SNP depute leadership race, won by Economy Secretary Keith Brown on Friday. During the contest, the Clackmannanshire MSP said a new vote on independence could take place in “12 months or two years” and repeated the view when he was interviewed after his victory by The National.

His two rivals Julie Hepburn and Chris McEleny had focused their campaigns on the matter, with the former saying there will be a referendum by 2021 and the latter calling for one within 18 months.

But the First Minister is keen to focus the debate away from timing and instead onto the case for increasing support for independence.

She told presenter Sophie Ridge yesterday: “On the question of timing, for the past 12 months I’ve been saying very clearly that I don’t think it’s right to consider that decision while things are so unclear and uncertain around Brexit. So as First Minister I won’t give consideration on the timing until I have some Brexit clarity.”

In an earlier television interview yesterday the First Minister said people should “stop obsessing” about when the next independence referendum will take place. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she said: “Let’s stop obsessing all the time about when we might get the chance to vote on independence again. Instead, let’s engage people in the substantive arguments. Let’s address people who still ask the question: why should Scotland be independent?”

Sturgeon called for a second independence referendum in March last year following her party’s win in the Holyrood election in May 2016 when it stood on a pledge to have a second vote on independence if Scotland voted to remain and the whole of the UK voted to leave in the following month’s EU referendum. In the event almost two-thirds of people north of the border voted to stay part of the EU, while the total vote across the UK was to leave.

But she faced a block to progress her plans when Prime Minister Theresa May rejected a request from her for the Scottish Parliament to be given temporary powers enabling it to hold a legally binding referendum.

During her BBC interview with journalist Andrew Marr Sturgeon also warned the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is heading back to the House of Commons on tomorrow, is “unconstitutional” as it stands and she is writing to Commons Speaker John Bercow asking for a vote on the issue of the Scottish Parliament refusing to grant consent for the legislation.

“This is quite an important issue of principle. This is not about giving the Scottish Parliament new powers or extra powers, it is simply about safeguarding the powers we already have,” she said.

“Based on the conventions that underpin the devolution settlement not just in Scotland but in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, it is unconstitutional.”

Speaking on Ridge on Sunday she also hit out at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, saying he is not fit to hold high office. Sturgeon said: “I don’t think Boris Johnson should be anywhere near a government office. He must be one of the least fit people to hold a high office of state that we’ve ever seen.”