Nicola Sturgeon has told the Prime Minister that a second vote on Scottish independence should be a “matter of when – not if”.
The SNP leader, who has just led her party to a fourth successive Holyrood election victory, made her position clear in telephone call with Boris Johnson.
It comes after Scotland returned a majority of MSPs supporting independence to Holyrood, with 64 SNP representatives and eight from the Scottish Greens.
However, Ms Sturgeon and the SNP failed to win an overall majority in the Parliament – with a key ally of Boris Johnson arguing that this showed Scots were not “agitating” for a referendum.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove noted that the current SNP leader “didn’t secure a majority as Alex Salmond did in 2011”, and insisted this was “a significant difference”.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC, the senior Tory stressed that in the Scottish election “a majority of people who voted in the constituencies voted for parties that were opposed to a referendum”.
Mr Johnson spoke to the newly re-elected First Minister on Sunday – the day after all the results from the Scottish Parliament election were declared.
A spokeswoman for Ms Sturgeon said that in this call “the First Minister made clear that her immediate focus was on steering the country through Covid and into recovery, and that a newly elected Scottish government would work with the UK government as far as possible on that aim”.
The two politicians agreed to work “closely and constructively to achieve a successful hosting of and outcome” from the Cop26 climate summit due to take place in Glasgow this November.
But the spokeswoman stated: “The FM also reiterated her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over, and made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when – not if.”
Earlier, Ms Sturgeon had told how she hoped she would be the First Minister who delivers independence for Scotland.
Asked on The Andrew Marr Show if she would achieve this, the SNP leader said: “I hope so.”
She added: “I have just won a landslide election and another five-year term as First Minister.
“I have got the energy, the appetite, to get on with the job. Firstly to get us through Covid, that is my priority, and then I hope to lead to Scotland to independence.”
Both the SNP and the Green election manifestos included a commitment to holding another independence referendum in the next five years – with Ms Sturgeon having already said she wants such a vote to take place before the end of 2023, assuming the immediate health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
Mr Gove insisted the results of Thursday’s elections – which also included council and mayoral votes in England as well as the Welsh Senedd – had been a “thank you” to politicians for the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
He also indicated that the UK Government may not go to court if a second referendum on Scottish independence was held, with the Cabinet Office Minister saying: “We’re not going near there.”
Speaking later on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Mr Gove added: “We’re not going to go down the route of talking about independence or legal challenges or anything like that when our principal focus, our exclusive attention, is going on pandemic recovery.”
Ms Sturgeon said Scots had “voted overwhelmingly” for her party, based on a manifesto which included a commitment to “give the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose our own future in a referendum” once the Covid crisis has passed.
She added: “The fact that we are sitting here having a debate about whether or not that outcome is going to be respected says a lot about the lack of respect for Scottish democracy that this UK Government has demonstrated for quite some time now.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted: “The people of Scotland have voted for the SNP, on the strength of offering, when the time is right, an independence referendum.
“As in 2011, leading up to 2014, any UK Government that has any respect for Scottish democracy would simply accept that and come to an agreement with the Scottish Government that puts it beyond any legal doubt.”
However, a poll for the pro-UK group Scotland in Union found less than two-fifths (37%) of Scots want a referendum within the First Minister’s preferred timetable, which would see a vote held in the first half of the next Holyrood term.
More than half (52%) of Scots are against having another referendum by the end of 2023, with 10% saying they did not know.
Scotland in Union added the same poll showed 58% of Scots wanted to stay in the UK, with 42% favouring independence.
Chief executive Pamela Nash said: “The very last thing we need right now is more division in our society.
“The majority of Scots do not want a referendum in the First Minister’s timetable of two-and-a-half years.”