NICOLA Sturgeon has accused opposition parties of “running scared” of a debate on Scotland’s future.

The First Minister said the Tories and Labour prefer to engage in the “politics of deflection” because they can see how “threadbare” the case for Westminster rule over Scotland has become.

Her comments came after the launch of the indyref2 campaign and the publication of the first in a series of papers which will form the prospectus for an independent Scotland.

Meanwhile, experts have told the Sunday National support for Yes is likely to be boosted if Boris Johnson continues to deny a referendum.

The Scottish Government’s document opened the debate for indyref2 by highlighting similar-sized nations to Scotland which are “wealthier, fairer and happier” than the UK.

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Sturgeon said: “The Tories and Labour have completely failed to engage with that point because they know it is true and because they can see how threadbare the case for continued Westminster rule over Scotland has become.

“They simply have no answer, so instead of engaging in that debate they prefer to engage in the politics of deflection, talking about issues of process when on the issues of substance the sands are shifting beneath their feet.

“No matter how hard the Westminster parties try and run away from the debate, they cannot dodge reality.

“The people of Scotland have secured a cast-iron democratic mandate to decide their own future – and neither Boris Johnson nor any other UK Prime Minister has the right to block that mandate.”

Sturgeon is expected to update Parliament in the next two weeks on the route to another referendum, before the Holyrood summer recess.

Last week she pledged a “significant update” would be given “very soon indeed” on how a vote could be held without powers being granted by Westminster.

“With the publication of this week’s paper, the campaign for an independence referendum has now begun in earnest, and I am determined to deliver the legal, constitutional referendum the people of Scotland have voted for,” she added.

Professor Matt Qvortrup (below), who has studied referendums around the world, said there was no doubt ­Sturgeon did have a democratic ­mandate for a fresh vote.

The National:

He argued the Scottish Parliament did not have the right to initiate a referendum, but said the idea of the “nasty English people” denying people the right for an independence vote was likely to increase Yes support.

“That’s going to give another five per cent to that – though there won’t necessarily be another referendum because of it,” he added.

However, SNP chiefs believe that a consultative ballot is within the ­powers of the Scottish Government and has a better chance of bypassing legal troubles, according to reports in The Times.

Legal experts are reportedly sceptical that asking a question with a view to opening independence discussions with the UK Government, rather than simply declaring independence, is more likely to pass the courts.

A source told The Times that the SNP leadership regards a ­consultative referendum as “win, win” which would not be unofficial in any way.

Constitution Secretary ­Angus ­Robertson has said that the ­Scottish Government plans to hold a ­second independence referendum in October 2023.

Sturgeon has made clear that her Government aims to have this ­happen with or without a Section 30 order from Westminster.

However, Qvortrup, professor of politics at Coventry University, raised the possibility that Johnson granting a section 30 order was not completely out of the question.

He said had been told one school of thought among some Tories was that if Scotland was “completely out of the equation” then the party’s rule would be almost guaranteed for decades.

“If there were to be a referendum in Scotland and Boris is desperate and he called that – we are talking about going nuclear – then he could say ‘well I will defend the Union, but I am also a democrat’.

“If Boris Johnson was to lose the referendum then the Conservatives would have fireproofed themselves for a very long time. And if the reverse were to be the case and they won it, then they could say we saved the Union and so on.

“So either he saves the Union or he goes down as a democrat and also guarantees his majority for a very long time.

“If somebody were to think that thought then it may not be quite so unlikely.”

But Qvortrup said he would “probably not bet” on indyref2 taking place next year.

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“I think there is a very strong case for Scotland becoming an independent country and I think most people would be relatively relaxed about that,” he said.

“But you need to choose the moment when that is most likely – that is a tricky situation.”

Dr Coree Brown Swan, a lecturer in comparative politics at Queen’s University Belfast who specialises in the politics of Scottish independence, said it is unclear whether the First Minister holds out any hope of bringing Johnson to the negotiating table.

But she also said a continued refusal by the UK Government to agree to a referendum could provide a boost to the Yes camp.

“The First Minister has, in my view rightly, signalled her commitment to a referendum along the terms of the 2014 vote, which in many ways was a model of modern constitutional politics,” she said.

“But faced with the continued refusal of the UK Government to countenance such a vote, the path to another referendum is unclear.

“The continued refusal of the UK Government might boost support for independence in opinion polls, but will bring the SNP no closer to its actual goal of independence.

“It may also present a political challenge to the First Minister, from those impatient for progress.”

Brown Swan said the first independence paper’s emphasis on the economic case for independence was “nothing new” – but added the strategy appears to have shifted.She said: “This paper makes fewer promises about Scotland’s economic prospects than the 2014 white paper.

“This will likely come in future papers, and Unionists are likely to offer competing claims about the economic impact of independence, but for now, Nicola Sturgeon seems to be building a case against the status quo.

The National: Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at a news conference on a proposed second referendum on Scottish independence, at Bute House on June 14, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Russell Cheyne - Pool/Getty Images).

“Strategically, this approach makes sense at least in the near-term. It focuses peoples’ attention on an already unpopular UK Government and contrasts its performance unfavourably with that of its neighbours.

“Rather than claiming that an independent Scotland will be X% wealthier – predictions that are near impossible in an age of increasing economic and political uncertainty – it encourages reflection on whether Scotland might be better served outside the UK.”

She added: “In the near-term this works, but the Scottish Government will not be able to avoid questions of process, and many of the difficult questions from 2014 – currency, EU membership – remain unanswered.”

Responding to Sturgeon’s comments, a UK Government spokesperson said: “Now is not the time to be talking about another referendum.

“People across Scotland rightly want and expect to see both of their governments working together with a relentless focus on the issues that matter to them, their families and communities.”