SCOTLAND could have its vote on independence before the end of next year, the First Minister has revealed.

Speaking to STV, Nicola Sturgeon said she thought indyref2 would be held “sometime next year, probably in the latter half of next year”.

In series of interviews ahead of the SNP’s Spring Conference – which kicks off today in Edinburgh – the party leader also hinted that Scotland could hold another vote on independence even if UK doesn’t leave the EU.

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On Wednesday, the First Minister told MSPs that voters should be presented with a “choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation” before the next Holyrood elections in 2021. Asked by STV if remaining part of the EU would mean no mandate for an indyref, Sturgeon said she would “take things in steps”.

“At the moment we face being taken out of the EU against our will, if that doesn’t happen, no doubt we will have this conversation about what should happen for Scotland then.”

The National:

When Sky asked the same question, she said that she would “make that judgement at that time. The last thing I’m going to do is narrow Scotland’s options.”

She added: “Right now our working assumption is that Brexit will happen, I hope it doesn’t but that’s what we’ve got to prepare for.”

The First Minister told the BBC that regardless of what happens at the end of the process, Westminster’s treatment of the Scottish Government over the last three years counted as the “material change in circumstances” cited in the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto as a trigger for another referendum.

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Sturgeon said her Government had a mandate for a fresh referendum before 2021: “The last Holyrood election, which the SNP won with a record vote share, in that manifesto we said... there would be a choice of another independence referendum if there was a material change of circumstances such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.

“That is exactly the scenario we are in.”

A poll for the pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union revealed that two-thirds of Scots voters want another referendum, but only 21% want it in the next two years.

Sturgeon said her job was to convince voters the timescale she has announced is the best option.

“My job is to explain to people why I think it would be a mistake to wait too long and allow the damage to be done to us,” she added.

She insisted Brexit would “do real damage for a long time to come to our economy, to our society, to our place in the world”.

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The First Minister dismissed the suggestion her statement on Wednesday had been made to appease SNP activists who are keen for her to set a date for a second independence ballot ahead of the party’s Edinburgh conference this weekend.

“The timing is not to do with the SNP conference,” she stated. “The European Council met when the Scottish Parliament had gone into recess, extended the UK’s membership, and I made a statement when the Scottish Parliament came back out of its Easter recess. I had given a commitment a long time ago to update the Scottish Parliament as soon as we had any kind of clarity and when we got clarity about a six-month extension that is exactly what I did.”

Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said the First Minister’s remarks were “proof that Nicola Sturgeon wants to press on with her break-up plans come hell or high water”.

He said: “Whether there’s a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or no Brexit at all – the First Minister will make this all about independence. It’s a shameless approach – Nicola Sturgeon isn’t even pretending to care about Brexit anymore.”

Scottish Labour finance spokesman James Kelly said: “No matter what she says, Nicola Sturgeon knows most people don’t want another independence referendum but she’ll find any excuse to try to justify one.”

He argued a second independence referendum would be a “distraction from the real challenges Scotland faces – a low pay economy, exhausted public services and soaring child poverty”.

LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “This interview shows that for the SNP it isn’t really about Brexit.”