THE Scottish Tories have demanded Nicola Sturgeon withdraw plans for her government to publish a referendum bill and "disown" Ian Blackford’s call for a 2021 independence referendum.

Douglas Ross's party made the demand after the SNP's Westminster leader told the Sunday National that the "referendum will take place and we need to plan that that referendum must take place in 2021".

A succession of polls has found that a majority of voters in Scotland back independence with many former No voters now persuaded to back the Yes cause because of opposition to Brexit.

It is also believed that rising support for independence has been based on the First Minister's more able handling of the pandemic than that of the Prime Minister, who has been criticised for a string of mixed messages and a late decision to go into lockdown in spring.

Boris Johnson is currently self-isolating after being in contact with a Tory MP last Thursday who later tested positive for Covid-19.

Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Dean Lockhart said the Scottish Government must drop the referendum bill plans and distance itself from Blackford's comments.

"We’re in the middle of the second wave of this pandemic but SNP leaders and government ministers are ramping up their push for a 2021 independence referendum," he said.

"With one eye on the upcoming SNP conference, the nationalists true colours are coming out. We need to hear the SNP Government fully disown Ian Blackford’s comments and withdraw their referendum bill. Words alone are not enough – if they are genuinely not contemplating a reckless referendum next year, they should withdraw the bill."

He added: "The threat of another divisive referendum is the last thing anyone needs or wants right now when the whole country is fighting Covid-19 and jobs are on the line.”

The First Minister told Holyrood earlier this year when she announced her programme for government that she would publish a referendum bill setting out the question, the terms and the timing of a new independence referendum in the current parliamentary session, which ends in March.

Her announcement was a boost for independence supporters after plans for a new vote were put on hold this year because of the pandemic.

Scottish Constitutional Secretary Michael Russell has also said a new independence referendum can take place next year.

Felllow Cabinet minister Fergus Ewing has said the 2021 election is “primarily about independence” while SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has said called 2021 a “crucial independence election".