A SECOND independence referendum is likely to happen in autumn 2021, according to a former Scottish Government minister.

Marco Biagi, who is hoping to return to Holyrood in May, believes the new vote will happen soon after next year’s Scottish Parliament elections should the SNP win a majority.

Polls suggest Nicola Sturgeon’s party is on course for a record fourth term in government and that she will lead a new majority administration.

Biagi predicted Prime Minister Boris Johnson would transfer powers to Holyrood after a SNP triumph next spring partly for fear of greater humiliation for the Union the longer the UK refused to grant a new vote.

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“I believe we are talking September or October for a second independence referendum,” he told The National.

“The Scottish Government can get the legislation through before the summer recess and campaigns will then run over the summer.”

Biagi was speaking ahead of the unveiling in Holyrood tomorrow of the First Minister’s Programme for Government which sets out the legislative plans for the remainder of the parliament.

Last year the Scottish Parliament passed the Referendum Bill which sets the framework for any referendum and paves the way for another constitutional ballot.

However, the Scottish Government has said further legislation would be needed for a vote to take place.

Biagi said: “The Programme for Government formally announces all the legislation but parliament is going to be dissolved in March so there’s not that much new that is going to be in there, it’s going to be finishing off things that have already come.

“There needs to be some kind of emphasis on independence and some kind of progress that could take a commitment to publish documents on some of the outstanding questions.

“We could see an updated economic argument. We could see the EU position certainly as we have the exit [from the single market] happening on January 1.”

Asked about Johnson’s repeated refusals to hand referendum powers to Scotland under the Section 30 order – which was agreed ahead of the 2014 vote – Biagi believed Johnson would change his mind following a SNP Holyrood election victory.

He said: “I would see us winning the election next year as leading to a request by the Scottish Government for a Section 30. If the Section 30 is refused I would see the Scottish Government taking a case to the Supreme Court. If the UK Government doesn’t relent they know they are just putting it off and there is always the danger that if they keep saying no, when one does happen they lose by 70%.”

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Biagi served as local government minister and as SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central between 2011 and 2016. He stood down ahead of the 2016 to take up academic studies and is planning to return to Holyrood next year.

He is hoping to be selected as the SNP’s candidate in Edinburgh Central, where he is up against Angus Robertson, the party’s former deputy leader, to win the party’s nomination.

Toni Giugliano, who is running to be selected as the SNP’s candidate in Dumbarton, said he hoped the Programme for Government would include measures to progress independence.

He said: “This is our last Programme for Government ahead of the election and I expect to see ambition. While priority must be given to economic recovery to help people weather the storm caused by Covid-19, it is essential to spell out plans for our constitutional future.

“The Scottish Government should make it clear that the only way for Scotland to escape the calamity of Brexit and the sheer incompetence of Boris Johnson’s Government is to take control over our future.

“Independence must be front and centre in next year’s election – our job will be to inspire and motivate the majority-support for independence that a better future exists as a sovereign European nation. The Programme for Government is clearly a crucial part of that process.”

Recent polls have put support for independence at 54% and 55% – the latter reversing the result of the referendum in 2014.

An SNP spokesman said: “Independence is becoming the settled will of the majority of people in Scotland, but the SNP is taking nothing for granted. We will campaign for every single vote to give Scotland a choice over its future in the next parliament.”

A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed the Programme for Government would be unveiled tomorrow.