NICOLA Sturgeon has said her Government will soon start refreshing the “very positive case” for Scottish independence, as she insisted recent election results showed there is a “growing sense that the UK in its current state is not serving the needs of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland”.

The First Minister spoke out after Sinn Fein’s triumph in which the party won the most seats – 27 out of 90 – in last week’s Stormont elections.

This entitles Sinn Fein to have one of its representatives take up the post of first minister there, which would be the first time a non-Unionist politician has held Northern Ireland’s top post.

Meanwhile, local government elections in Scotland saw the SNP emerge again as the winners, with Sturgeon’s party securing more seats on councils than any other party.

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While Sturgeon stressed there were “different factors at play” in the elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, she claimed it was now “obviously the case that there are very big fundamental questions being asked in every part of the UK, about UK governance in the years ahead”.

She added: “I think there’s a growing sense that the UK in its current state is not serving the needs of Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland or perhaps even England appropriately.

“And I think we will see big changes in the years to come and I’m convinced one of those changes will be Scottish independence.”

She congratulated Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland, on its success, with Sturgeon saying: “For them to become the largest party in Northern Ireland is, as you know, a development of truly historic proportions.”

But she also stressed the importance of parties at Stormont “coming together, working together”, and getting the Northern Irish Executive up and running again.

Sturgeon hailed her own party’s success in the local elections as “astonishing”, saying it was “really quite something” to have such a result after 15 years in power at Holyrood.

The SNP leader said a mandate for a second independence referendum had already been won in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. It saw the SNP and the pro-independence Scottish Greens win a majority of seats at Holyrood, with both parties pledging to have a vote on the issue in this parliamentary term.

Sturgeon noted that both the SNP and the Greens had increased their share of the vote in last week’s council elections, as she said work towards a second referendum would continue.

Asked when a bill for an independence referendum could be brought before the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said she would “set that out in due course”.

Any such legislation, however, is almost certain to face a legal challenge from the UK Government, who are opposed to the holding of such a vote. Sturgeon also said her government would start to set out white papers for independence “in the very near future”.

It has been almost a decade since the previous independence white paper, which contained more than 700 pages, was published, with the First Minister promising the new paper would be “refreshing” and put the “very positive case for independence”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said yesterday that the DUP and UK Government must accept and respect the democratic result of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections,

O’Neill said there could be no delay to the restoration of the Stormont powersharing Executive and her nomination as first minister, following her party’s election victory.

The National: Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O'Neill

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has stated that he will not re-enter the Executive without “decisive action” from the UK Government on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This means that prospects of any quick return of the devolved powersharing Executive at Stormont are diminishing. MLAs returned to Parliament Buildings yesterday and party leaders held separate meetings with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he does not plan to be personally involved in the Northern Ireland talks and Downing Street played down reports of a Cabinet rift over the protocol.

O’Neill said yesterday: “The people have spoken and they have spoken very clearly. The message is one of hope, it is also one of optimism for the future, for the political leaders to work together and to make politics work.

“The electorate also demands that the parties get back down to business, to elect a speaker, to sit in the Assembly, to have it function, to appoint a first minister and a deputy first minister, to form a new Executive.”

She added: “Today we have met with the British Secretary of State, have spoken with the Taoiseach and will be engaging with other party leaders and my message is clear.

“As democrats, the DUP, but also the British Government, must accept and respect the democratic outcome of this election. Brinkmanship will not be tolerated where the north of Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission.

“Responsibility for finding solutions to the protocol lie with Boris Johnson and the EU. But make no mistake, we and our business community will not be held to ransom.”