NICOLA Sturgeon has indicated that she may be able to make “concrete decisions” in early spring about holding second independence referendum.

The First Minister signalled the move in a newspaper interview yesterday and as reports say her party is preparing to step up its campaign on independence.

However, she has repeatedly warned the NHS is braced for its worst winter on record as doctors and nurses treat people in hospital with Covid-19, catch up with the treatment of non-Covid patients which was put on hold in earlier stages of the pandemic.

The Scottish Government wants to hold a second independence referendum before the end of 2023 on the condition the pandemic has passed. Powers over the constitution are reserved to Westminster, but the First Minister has previously said she would unilaterally pass legislation at Holyrood and dare UK ministers to challenge it in court.

Speaking to the Financial Times yesterday, she acknowledged there was frustration at her reluctance to say when legislation for a referendum would be put before the Scottish Parliament, while insisting uncertainty about the pandemic meant it was correct to retain “a degree of flexibility”.

“As we come out of this winter into the spring — with, I hope, a lot more certainty about the Covid situation being a bit more in the rear-view mirror — we start to take more concrete decisions around all of this,” she told the paper.

She said the biggest threat to the Scottish economy was a shortage of people, exacerbated by the scrapping of freedom of movement for EU citizens. “The consequences of not being independent are much, much greater than they arguably were in 2014,” she said. “Will it be worth it? Absolutely. We face change and transition now, whatever we do.”

Boris Johnson has said he will refuse to agree another independence referendum, setting the stage for a potential Supreme Court battle over whether Edinburgh can legally hold one on its own.

Opinion polls this year suggest support for independence has fallen back from the sustained lead of up to 58% recorded in 2020.

But they also suggest substantial majorities of younger Scots back independence – a Panelbase survey in September, for example, found more than 60% of those aged 16 to 34 would vote to leave the UK when undecideds are excluded.

The SNP won a fourth term in power at elections in May and now, through a co-operation with the Scottish Greens, commands a pro-independence majority in Holyrood.

She suggested the most difficult question on independence was the choice of currency, defending the SNP’s policy of initially continuing to use the UK pound — an approach that would deny the new state any control over monetary policy.

Supporters of the policy point to Ireland which carried on using the pound after independence in 1921 until it adopted its own currency. It adopted the euro in 1999.

Under SNP policy, an independent Scotland would move to its own currency “as soon as practicable” once its economy met key tests on market credibility, trade and public opinion.