THE First Minister has unveiled plans for a second independence referendum within the next two years if Scotland is taken out of the European Union.

In a 30-minute statement to Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon was applauded by SNP MSPs as she announced her government would introduce a bill next month to hold a new vote.

She also indicated she would seek to request the transfer of powers to Holyrood via a Section 30 order to proceed with the referendum, but would do this during or after the bill’s passage.

Addressing parliament, she underlined that the SNP was elected in 2016 with an explicit mandate for an independence vote before 2021 should Scotland be taken out of the EU “against its will”. She also noted there was a Holyrood majority in favour of such a vote.

READ: Nicola Sturgeon's indyref2 update speech in full

But she cautioned those in the SNP and wider Yes movement campaigning for an early referendum that to “rush” into one “before the Brexit path has been determined would not allow an informed choice to be made”.

She added: “However, if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests, we cannot wait indefinitely. That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered later in the lifetime of this Parliament. If Scotland is taken out of the EU, the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us. That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage that Brexit will do.”

Explaining why she would not seek a Section 30 order at the moment, she pointed to the Prime Minister’s insistence that she would refuse any such request – and said the current Conservative Government may “soon be out of office”, and that she would prefer to wait for “an appropriate point”.

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Sturgeon’s comments were seen as a suggestion she might hold off to see if there was a General Election and the possibility of a Labour government, which could be more ready to grant the referendum powers to Holyrood.

In September last year, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would “not rule out” granting a Section 30 order if he became prime minister, but said he would “decide at the time” what to do if Sturgeon asked for one.

There have also been suggestions the SNP could prop up a minority Labour government at Westminster following an election with the condition for their support being the granting of powers to Holyrood for an independence vote.

Setting out her Government’s course of action, Sturgeon said: “I confirm that the Scottish Government will act to ensure that the option of giving people a choice on independence later in this session of Parliament is progressed.

“We will shortly introduce legislation to set the rules for any referendum that is, now or in the future, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. We will aim for the legislation to be on the statute book by the end of this year.

“Mike Russell will set out the details next month. We do not need a transfer of power such as a Section 30 order to pass such a framework bill, though we would need it to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum. As members are aware, the UK Government’s current position is that it will not agree to transfer power, but I believe that that position will prove to be unsustainable.”

She continued: “We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point during or shortly after the bill’s passage, on the basis that it will be exercised when this Parliament – and no other – considers it right to offer the people of Scotland a choice.

“In 2014, the Scottish and UK governments and parliaments set the gold standard. Two governments with very different views on the outcome came together to agree a process that allowed the people to decide. That is what should happen in the future.”

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Her intervention yesterday afternoon followed a further possible extension to the Brexit process to October 31 – agreed by May and the European Council earlier this month – if the Prime Minister’s deal is not passed in the Commons, as seems likely, following three defeats to date.

The long-awaited update came ahead of the SNP’s Spring Conference in Edinburgh this weekend, with members to debate revised aspects of the economic case for independence set out in Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission, published last year.

Entitled “Brexit and Scotland’s Future”, the First Minister’s statement underlined the economic, social and democratic risks facing Scotland from a Brexit people north of the Border did not vote for.

To open up a discussion with opponents, she proposed cross-party talks to discuss which powers they believe should be transferred to Holyrood to enable it to better protect Scotland’s interests. She also unveiled plans to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to bring together a cross-section of society under an independent chair and seek views on how best to equip the Scottish Parliament for the challenges of the future in light of Brexit.

She said such an assembly in Ireland had “helped to find consensus on issues where people have sharply divided opinions”.

READ MORE: First Minister unveils plan for Citizens' Assembly​

It would be tasked with establishing what kind of Scotland people are seeking to build; how Scotland can best overcome the challenges it faces, including those arising from Brexit; and what further work should be carried out to give people the details they need to make informed choices about the future of the country.

She compared the situation facing Scotland with the 27 independent countries in the EU, pointing out around a dozen are smaller than or similar in size to Scotland.

Sturgeon said: “With all of our assets and talents, Scotland should be a thriving and driving force within Europe. Instead we face being forced to the margins – sidelined within a UK that is, itself, increasingly sidelined on the international stage.

Independence, by contrast, would allow us to protect our place in Europe.

“Twenty years on from the establishment of this Parliament, I believe we can do better. Brexit makes change for Scotland inevitable.”