WITH just one day to go until voters head to polling stations to elect a new batch of councillors, The National has been interviewing party leaders to get their last pitch to the public.

Here, we caught up with Nicola Sturgeon on the campaign trail in Glasgow and interviewed her on the SNP battle bus. We put plenty of key questions to the First Minister about indyref2 planning, how she thinks the Tories will do on May 5, and the key priorities for any SNP councillors elected this week.

And she revealed a little bit about when we can expect those highly anticipated white papers setting out the blueprint for an independent Scotland.

The SNP manifesto focuses heavily on the cost of living crisis. Could you tell us more about why you want to send a message to the Tories and what the key things SNP councillors will be doing to tackle the crisis?

People are struggling right now in a way that I don’t think most of them have ever experienced in their lifetimes before. It is really bad, struggling to heat their homes, struggling often to feed their kids and it’s unfortunately going to get worse.

There are global factors at play but the Tories have a lot of culpability for the crisis we’re in just now. The removal of Universal Credit from some of the most vulnerable people in the country, Brexit imposed on Scotland against our will, have had an impact on prices and is fuelling the cost of living crisis. So they need to come forward, step up and do much more to help.

They hold the powers, they hold most of the resources and there should be, just as it was during the pandemic, a real pulling together of every level of government regardless of party to help people. Councillors have a part to play in that. We are working with councils to get help to people through the council tax reduction scheme, the rebate of council tax that we have delivered recently, and making sure that discretionary housing payments, the welfare fund are there.

READ MORE: Win for Yes parties at local election would 'reinstate indyref2 mandate', says Patrick Harvie

The Scottish Government already protects many benefits, such as free prescriptions, free eyecare and lower council tax bills than in other parts of the UK. We’ve just introduced the Scottish Child Payment and increased benefits by much closer to the rate of inflation. The missing part of this is the UK Government. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are so out of touch that they don’t seem to realise how important it is to deliver substantial help.

So this election is an opportunity for people first and foremost to elect strong local councillors but also to send a message to Boris Johnson that people are disgusted at his antics over partygate but are also disgusted at his inaction to help with the cost of living.

Do you think the Tories and Douglas Ross (left) are going to have a bad result?

That’s up to voters, but certainly voters I’ve been speaking to are really angry at the Tories.

Angry at Boris Johnson and how he’s behaved and his apparent inability to be straight and honest with people or to be straight and honest with the House of Commons, and angry at inaction when people are really struggling and suffering.

I sense a real desire to send that message to the Tories and to ensure that they pay an electoral price for everything that’s happened over the past period, but that’s up to voters.

I’m campaigning first and foremost to elect SNP councillors and SNP councils because I think that’s best for local services. It allows us to have a good relationship between the SNP government in Holyrood and councils across the country but elections are for people to make their feelings known and I think there’s a lot of real angry feelings towards the Conservatives right now and this is a chance to express that at the ballot box.

What would your message be to National readers about what progress is being made on independence?

We’re progressing the independence case, we’re working on the revised prospectus, we’re making preparations around the bill. We set the timetable at the election last year, won a mandate and that is the timetable we’re working to.

Scotland’s on a path to independence but as I’ve always said – and I know it’s tough for people who are like me impatient for Scotland to become independent – we’ve got to do it properly, we’ve got to persuade people, we’ve got recognise the issues that matter to people and make that case relevant and compelling for them.

Scotland’s on its way to independence and we need to show resolve. Occasionally we need to show patience. If we do all of those things we’ll get there.

You mentioned the white papers and it came out a couple of weeks ago that there had been some high-level briefings that you took part in, so do you know when we’ll see the first white paper? Do you have a timeline in mind?

It will be reasonably soon and we’ll start to publish these papers as we go through the next few months so that work is well under way. The opposition are holding their hands up in horror that I’ve been having meetings about taking forward an independence referendum ... I was elected on a mandate to take forward an independence referendum and I think people across Scotland would have more right to be annoyed if I hadn’t been doing that work and making those preparations.

Your manifesto also states you’ll be seeking voters’ permission for indyref once Covid passes so will it be full steam ahead for indyref2 after the council elections?

My manifesto this year is not seeking that permission, I got that last year. We’ve got a mandate, so what the manifesto this year says is that councillors elected for the SNP will support the Scottish Government in delivering the mandate we got last year to have an independence referendum.

So once this election is over and with Covid restrictions lifted you’d said at the beginning after that it would be time …

I’ve set the timetable. Nothing has changed in terms of the timetable I’ve set.

The National:

Which celebrity would you most like to convert to Yes?

I don’t think it’s about converting. I’m always delighted when a celebrity moves from No to Yes, I think that’s fantastic, but it’s the people of Scotland who weren’t convinced in 2014 that I want to convert. In a referendum, just like in an election, everybody’s vote is worth the same.

So what we have to do in Scotland is convert a majority of the Scottish population to support independence. I think we are well on the way to doing that.

I think when the time comes we will do that but everybody matters in terms of the decision that lies ahead.

You’re talking about wanting to win more people over if you and the SNP and the Greens make really good gains at this election are you tempted to use that as a second mandate on top of…

You don’t need a second mandate, we’ve got a mandate and we’re going to progress that mandate in the way we set out last year.

Anas Sarwar has ruled out forming coalitions to run councils and the Conservatives, some parties may not work with them, so are SNP councillors prepared to go into coalitions with Labour?

We’ll work, as we have done over the past five years, we’ll work with people where we can find common ground.

We won’t go into coalition with the Tories because the Tories are damaging to Scotland and to people in communities across Scotland but beyond that it will be for our local councillors elected to decide what’s best for the local areas and come up with what they think is the best way forward.

But with a week to go, just under a week to go, to the election we’re focused on winning as many voters for the SNP as possible because that will elect as many councillors as possible and put the SNP into the driving seat of these discussions after May 5.

Anas Sarwar’s position makes no sense unless – and this is what I think it says about him and I think it is quite telling – he is so deep in an opposition mindset that he’s a million miles from contemplating actually what it takes to take responsibility and exercise the powers of government.

READ MORE: Alex Cole-Hamilton on Tory coalitions, indyref2 and more

The Tories and Labour in this election, by their own admission, are fighting over second place.

I’m fighting it to win because I think it’s good for Scotland that we have SNP councillors in as many parts of the country as possible.

Are there any key council areas that you’re hoping for success in, maybe North Lanarkshire or somewhere like that?

Obviously we want to win everywhere. The SNP are Scotland’s party, we don’t just fight in the central belt, or the south of Scotland or the north of Scotland, or the islands or the Highlands. We are Scotland’s party so we want to win in every part of Scotland.

How many members do the SNP have?

I can’t remember the exact figure but it’s well over 100,000 and it’s what it was last time we published that figure.