NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted she will lead the SNP into the next Holyrood election, describing speculation around her departure as “overblown”.

The First Minister also told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterdaythat she was still “working towards” holding indyref2 by the end of this year.

Downing Street have rejected the First Minister’s request for a Section 30 order, which would allow Holyrood to hold a legally watertight referendum. Sturgeon said it was wrong to say that this meant – as her MP Angus MacNeil had suggested – that the “Plan A” case for a new vote had “hit a brick wall”.

“Support for independence is rising,” she said, pointing to recent polls showing majority support for a Yes vote.

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The First Minister added: “That is the way we win independence but also the way that we break the impasse on the right to choose.

“As a leader, there’s a responsibility to be frank with people and sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be frank with your own supporters.

“I want a referendum that is not just a gesture that allows us to make a point, but a referendum that can deliver us independence.”

She told the host: “I appreciate that some people are impatient for independence – I’m impatient for independence.

“But what’s most important of all is that we have a referendum that’s legal, legitimate and can actually deliver independence.”

Last week two SNP MPs, Pete Wishart and Joanna Cherry clashed very publicly over the prospect of legislating for a new referendum without Westminster’s approval.

Cherry has called for the Scottish Government to do so, arguing that this would effectively force the UK Government to take them to court and would then test the limits of the constitution.

Wishart has suggested such a move would be high risk, and a legal defeat would be harmful to their shared cause.

Yesterday, the First Minister said the government may look at going to court, though she described that as not being her “preferred option”.

Last week there was renewed speculation about Sturgeon’s future as First Minister.

Unnamed sources told a BBC reporter that they thought she might have to “fall on her sword” over the summer.

That, the BBC journalist suggested, could be because of the trial of Alex Salmond.

The National: Alex Salmond

The former First Minister – who denies all charges – is in court next month charged with two indecent assaults, 10 sexual assaults, an attempted rape and a sexual assault with intent to rape.

Legal restriction means that very little of the detail can be reported, but the four-week trial, which starts on March 9, is going to be a stressful event for the SNP.

A Holyrood inquiry is also poised to investigate Sturgeon’s role in a separate Scottish Government probe into her predecessor which cost taxpayers £500,000.

When asked by Marr if she will remain in her position for the next few years, Sturgeon said: “Yes, I hope so. All leaders should reflect on an ongoing basis.

“For me, two conditions are needed for me to stay as leader – and I do intend to lead my party into the next Scottish Parliament election.

“You have to have the support, not just of party but of country. I would say, humbly, that I’ve just led my party to another landslide election victory, winning 80% of the seats.

“But secondly, I have to be sure that I want to do this job, think I’m the best person to do this job, have the drive and energy and that’s emphatically the case.

“When either of these things cease to be the case then that’ll be the time for me to move on and do these other things that I’m keen to do in my lifetime. That is not now and it is not imminent.”

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Responding to the interview, Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said “senior lieutenants” in Sturgeon’s party were “fighting like ferrets in a sack” to be the next leader of the SNP.

The MSP was almost certainly alluding to the increasingly tense selection battle for Edinburgh Central, being contested by Cherry and former Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

“The First Minister is clearly rattled,” Carlaw claimed.

“Everyone knows it isn’t feasible to have indyref2 in 2020 but the First Minister will not rule out yet more constitutional and legal wrangling.”