NICOLA Sturgeon is confident Scots will vote for their independence next year as she set her sights on a second referendum.

The First Minister, during a series of interviews on Monday morning, insisted plans for the ballot will not be derailed by Covid or the war in Ukraine.

She also dismissed criticism of her government over unpublished legal advice about indyref2.

In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, support for Scottish independence hit record highs – rising to 58%. But that figure has dipped since, with Scots more evenly split on the constitutional question.

Sturgeon, speaking in the lead up to Thursday’s council elections, said she thought Scots would still opt to leave the UK if given the chance in another referendum – which she says is on track to be held by the end of next year.

“I set out my thinking on this at the Scottish Parliament elections last year when I put myself up for re-election as First Minister and my government for re-election,” she said on BBC Breakfast. “We said that we wanted to offer people the choice of independence in the first half of this Scottish parliamentary term which means before the end of next year – 2023.”

She added: “I’m convinced that when people get that choice again they will vote for Scotland to be independent – most of the promises that were made to Scotland at the last referendum by those who argued against independence – not least that we’d continue to be in the European Union – have been broken.

“But, of course, it is a matter for the people of Scotland and I recognise the responsibility I have and those arguing for independence have to make that case and to win that argument.”

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The Scottish Government plans to publish a Bill which would allow Holyrood to schedule another independence vote, but opponents have questioned whether it has the legal power to do so.

Sturgeon, while not indicating a specific date for indyref2, insisted that planning it for 2023 represented a “definitive timescale”.

The National: File photo dated 16/09/14 of supporters at a Yes Rally in George Square ahead of voting in the Scottish independence referendum. A majority of people in Scotland would vote for independence if there was a no-deal Brexit, polling has suggested. PRESS

She also told the Guardian that the conflict in Ukraine has “not changed my position” on the timing of a second vote.

The First Minister’s comments come after her government was instructed by Scotland’s information commissioner to release parts of legal advice given to ministers on independence.

Following a freedom of information request from the Scotsman seeking legal advice provided in 2020 – which was rejected by the Scottish Government – Darren Fitzhenry ruled that some of the information should be divulged by June 10, though ministers can appeal within 42 days of the ruling.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland earlier on Monday, the First Minister was asked how many civil servants are working on plans for indyref2.

“I'm happy to get you these figures. I don't have these figures. But people across the Scottish Government will be prioritising the particular work they do.

“But it would actually be more astonishing, would it not, having won an election last year on a proposition to offer people in Scotland the choice before the end of 2023, if you were to put it to me that no civil servants were working on it, because then that wouldn't actually be taking forward the mandate that I had.”

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She added: “I and my government responsibly decided that we would put other things including planning for an independence referendum aside to focus on Covid. But I won an election on the basis of offering people a choice and it's a choice for people in Scotland to decide, and therefore that democratic mandate to prepare for that is one that is beyond any question.”

The First minister also said divulging the legal advice would be a breach of the ministerial code.

“You know the ministerial code provisions on ministers like me discussing the content of legal advice – if I was to do that today you would no doubt have me on tomorrow accusing me, in very legitimate journalistic terms I hasten to add, of breaching the ministerial code, so I’m not going to go into that,” she said.

According to the ministerial code, acknowledging the existence of legal advice is not strictly prohibited, and divulging such advice could be done in “exceptional circumstances”.

Last year, the Scottish Government – under intense pressure following a vote in Parliament – released legal advice it was given after former first minister Alex Salmond took legal action due to the botched investigation of handling of harassment complaints against him.

“The reason we’re considering this carefully is the long-standing convention, not just in Scotland, but across the UK and probably most other countries in the world, that routinely governments don’t publish legal advice because we put a lot of value on the ability to get free and frank legal advice,” she added.

“So if we are to depart from that convention – it’s quite a significant thing, it goes against precedent and we want to consider that carefully.”

The SNP leader added: “I have no interest in anything other than a referendum that is entirely legal and constitutional. I wouldn't be able to have a referendum that wasn't totally legal because in this country, we have checks and balances and courts would be able to decide if that wasn't the case.

“I only want a referendum that is capable of delivering independence, which means it has to be legal and has to be constitutional. And it has to lead to a majority of people in Scotland voting for independence.”

The First Minister, during an appearance on Loose Women last month, indicated she would step aside if Scots voted no in another referendum.

But she said on Monday “that’s not a scenario that I’m working towards”.