NICOLA Sturgeon has compared Boris Johnson to a "timorous beastie" as she argued he is in a panic and frightened of democracy over his stance on a second independence referendum.

The First Minister quoted from the celebrated poem To a Mouse by the bard Robert Burns as she appeared on the BBC's Marr show this morning.

Asked by presenter Andrew Marr for her view on the Prime Minister's comments that there should not be another referendum until 40 years after the 2014 vote, she said: "It's Robert Burns' birthday tomorrow and our annual Burns day and when I hear Boris Johnson talk about this I bring to mind a Burns poem 'cowering tim'rous beastie, oh what a panic's in thy beastie'. He's frightened of democracy. 

"The polls now show that a majority of people in Scotland want independence. If the SNP win the Scottish election in a few months' time on a proposition of giving the people a choice then what democrat could rightly stand in the way of that.

"Boris Johnson clearly just fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people."

The First Minister was asked if she would hold an advisory "home-made Scottish referendum" if the SNP wins in the upcoming elections.

She said: "I want to have a legal referendum, that's what I'm going to seek the authority of the Scottish people for in May.

"And if they give me that authority that's what I intend to do."

She continued: "That's democracy, it's not about what I want or about what Boris Johnson wants, it's about what the people of Scotland want and the increasing evidence is that they want independence."

A series of polls published today found that voters across the UK believe Scotland is likely to become independent within the next decade – while more than half of those in Northern Ireland want a referendum on a united Ireland in the next five years.

The Sunday Times commissioned the surveys across the four nations of the United Kingdom to gauge attitudes towards the Union.

The findings highlight some of the difficulties facing Johnson as he struggles to keep the country together following its departure from the European Union.

In Scotland, the poll found 49% backed independence compared to 44% against – a margin of 52% to 48% if the undecideds are excluded.

In Northern Ireland, 47% still want to remain in the UK, with 42% in favour of a United Ireland and a significant proportion – 11% – undecided.

However, asked if they supported a referendum on a United Ireland within the next five years, 51% said yes compared to 44% who were against.

In Wales, where support for independence is traditionally weakest, 23% still backed leaving the UK while 31% supported a referendum.

Across all four nations, more voters expected Scotland to be out of the UK within 10 years than thought it would still remain.

In England, the margin was 49% to 19%, in Northern Ireland it was 60% to 28%, in Wales 49% to 23% and in Scotland itself 49% to 30%.

With crucial elections to the Scottish Parliament coming up in May, the poll found the SNP way ahead on 70% - up seven points since the last elections in 2016 – while the Tories were down six points on 25%, with Labour down five points on 19%.

Panelbase polled 1206 adults resident in Scotland between January 19-22. YouGov polled 1416 English adults between January 19 and 20, and 1059 people in Wales aged 16 and over between January 18 and 21.

Lucidtalk polled 2392 people in Northern Ireland aged 16 and over between January 15 and 18.

On Saturday, the SNP revealed a "roadmap to a referendum" on Scottish independence, setting out how the party intend to take forward their plans for a second vote.

Michael Russell, the Scottish Government's Constitution Secretary, is present the 11-point document to the party's National Assembly forum today.

It says a "legal referendum" will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May's election.

The roadmap states any attempt by the UK Government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be "vigorously opposed".

A Section 30 order – part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster – was granted by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Russell says the UK Government could either agree that Holyrood already has the power to hold a second referendum or agree to a Section 30 order – something he said would put the question of legality "beyond any doubt".

Johnson has repeatedly stated his opposition to a second independence referendum.

READ MORE: Scottish independence: Boris Johnson rules out new vote until 2055

As the roadmap document was published, Russell said: "I firmly believe that Scotland's referendum must be beyond legal challenge to ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.

"This is the surest way by far to becoming an independent country.

"The referendum should be held after the pandemic, at a time to be decided by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. The SNP believes that should be in the early part of the new term."

He continued: "Today I am setting out how I believe that right can be secured, and I welcome the discussion that will take place around this idea and others.

"But what is absolutely not for discussion is the fact that if Scotland votes for a legal referendum on May 6 this year, that is what it will get.

READ MORE: Scottish independence: Marco Biagi unveiled as strategist in Yes taskforce

"The SNP Scottish Government will deliver such a referendum if re-elected and the proposals I am putting forward make that very clear."

Around 1000 party members are expected to take part in the SNP's national assembly tomorrow, a policy forum chaired by deputy leader Keith Brown.

Opposition parties accused the SNP of putting the push for independence ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: "Scotland is deep in turmoil with thousands facing a cost of living crisis and thousands more people being lost to the virus.

"It is inexcusable that at this time of acute crisis the SNP seeks to put its plan for independence above everything else."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson has a new five step plan to stop Scottish independence

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted: "When 100% of our focus should be on recovering from the pandemic, the SNP are charging ahead with plans for another referendum.

"We won't let them get their way."

Responding to the SNP's document, the UK Government said the issue of Scottish independence had been settled "decisively" in 2014.

A spokeswoman said: "People in Scotland want to see politicians across the UK working in partnership to focus on defeating coronavirus.

"That remains the top priority of the UK Government, which has supported jobs and businesses across all four nations throughout the pandemic.

"The Government is supporting the devolved administrations in their vaccination programmes, with the British Armed Forces helping to establish 80 new Covid-19 vaccine centres in Scotland.

"The question of Scottish independence was settled decisively in 2014, when Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

"Now more than ever, we should be pulling together to strengthen our United Kingdom, instead of trying to separate it."