NICOLA Sturgeon is to press ahead with attempts to hold an independence referendum later this year, her spokesman has said.

The First Minister said last Tuesday she would “set out her next steps” by the end of the month following Boris Johnson’s rejection of her request to devolve powers to Holyrood to hold a legally binding vote.

And yesterday her spokesman told journalists it was still her intention to have a vote this year as “that is what people voted for”.

Asked whether she was still planning to hold a referendum this year after former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson suggested activists switch their focus to winning a majority in the Scottish Parliament elections next year, the spokesman said: “We are committed to what was put forward in the most recent election manifesto weeks ago. That’s what people voted for and it is incumbent on us to try to deliver what people have voted for.”

The National: Angus RobertsonAngus Robertson

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The First Minister has refused to rule out legal action in a bid to force a second independence vote but has previously rejected calls for an unofficial referendum amid concerns a win for the independence side would not be recognised internationally and that such a ballot could be boycotted by those opposed to independence.

Writing in The National last Saturday, Robertson said: “Hard as it is to endure given the repeated electoral mandates for an independence referendum, the reality is that the issue of indyref2 will be decided in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.”

Other senior SNP figures have also expressed doubts a vote will take place this year, with former Scottish justice secretary and East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill saying the likelihood of this in the short-term is “slim” and “more likely nil”.

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The National: Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill

The SNP won 47 out of Scotland’s 59 seats at the General Election, gaining 45% of the vote, having stood on a manifesto promise of holding a second independence referendum in 2020.

The party’s manifesto said: “A vote for the SNP in this election ... is a vote to endorse the following position: the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future in a new referendum on becoming an independent country.

“It must be for the Scottish Parliament not Westminster to decide when an independence referendum should be held – and the SNP intends that it will be in 2020.”

In contrast, the Scottish Conservatives stood on a campaign promise to oppose a second independence referendum and lost seven of its 13 MPs, and got 25% of the vote.

Its manifesto stated: “Scottish voters can send a clear signal to Nicola Sturgeon that they do not want another divisive referendum is by voting Scottish Conservative and Unionist.”

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Responding to the First Minister’s intention to press ahead with plans for a new referendum this year, Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins last night said: “The only next step Nicola Sturgeon should be contemplating is taking a divisive referendum re-run off the table altogether.

“The UK Government has provided welcome clarity on this – there will be no legal and binding independence vote in 2020 or the foreseeable future.

“The SNP should accept this and start concentrating on improving the lives and prospects of Scotland’s residents – something it hasn’t prioritised in a decade.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused the First Minister of “stoking up” demand for independence at the same time as her Government was failing to deal with problems in education and mental health care.