NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed that the SNP manifesto for next year’s election will contain a commitment to hold a second independence referendum.

Writing in Holyrood magazine’s 2020 Annual Review, the First Minister said the vote in May would be “the most important in Scotland’s history”.

Sturgeon said she would “relish the chance to return to politics as normal once circumstances allow, especially as we look ahead to next year’s election”.

She said: “That election will be, in my view without question, the most important in Scotland’s history.

“Not only will it provide a stark choice between the progressive policy platform offered by the SNP and the utterly regressive agenda of the Conservatives, it will be an election which is, at its heart, about democracy.

“We are privileged to live in a democracy. But if that is to mean anything it must mean accepting the results of free and fair democratic elections.”

On indyref2, she said it would be “utterly untenable and unsustainable for the Conservatives to stand in the way of the democratic will of the people of Scotland” if the SNP win the next election.

Last December, after her party won 48 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies at the General Election, Sturgeon wrote to Johnson asking for the power to hold a legally watertight referendum to be devolved to Holyrood. Number 10 quickly said no.

However, Downing Street have, in recent weeks, ratcheted up rhetoric on the Union, fuelling speculation that they are gearing up for a constitutional rammy.

In the last three weeks there have been a slew of Tory ministerial visits north of the Border.

Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Alok Sharma, Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Iain Stewart have all had engagements in Scotland.

The past three weeks have also seen the party oust the under-performing Jackson Carlaw, replacing him with Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson.

During his visit to Scotland last month, the Prime Minister said the coronavirus crisis had proved the “sheer might” of the United Kingdom.

“The speed with which the Treasury was able to deploy, the HMRC was able to get the furlough scheme going, and about £160 billion worth of support for incomes, for people’s livelihoods, for firms, was a fantastic demonstration of the way we work together as one country,” he told journalists during a press stop in Lossiemouth.

Recent opinion polls suggest the SNP are currently on course for an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Last month Panelbase predicted the SNP winning 74 of Holyrood’s 129 seats.

The same survey also found support for independence at 54%, with 46% wanting Scotland to stay part of the UK.

Last week a YouGov poll put support for independence on 53%, up two points since January, and the highest that company has recorded.

Over the weekend, a former Tory shadow secretary of state for Scotland claimed Boris Johnson’s “smartest advisers” were telling him to agree to indyref2 quickly if Nicola Sturgeon wins a majority in next May’s Holyrood election.

Peter Duncan told the Sunday Times that if the UK Government continued to refuse a legally watertight referendum it would ultimately backfire on those who oppose independence. The former MP said: “The way for Unionists to win the argument on independence is not to be seen to deny any clear mandate for a referendum that may exist after the elections next year.

“A ‘no, never’ approach will fan the flames for independence, as the smarter advisers in Downing Street are now making clear.”

It’s not entirely clear which advisers in Number 10 are making the case for indyref2.

Duncan told the paper: “The front-foot approach that I would recommend means that there needs to be a plan for an early response after next May’s election – dragging feet has never yet been proven to be a good platform for winning any argument.

“The route to defending the Union is to be prepared, then proactive and positive. Carping negativity looks likely to end in failure.”

Duncan said Brexit had fundamentally changed the argument on both sides. “For some, it may accentuate the argument for separation, but nationalists will have to argue that a Union with Brussels is more important to Scotland than a Union across the UK – that’s a tough argument to make, and a very difficult one to win.”

Responding to the First Minister’s comments in Holyrood magazine, Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said the comments were “confirmation that Nicola Sturgeon wants to make next year’s election a referendum on another divisive referendum”.