The leader of the Scottish government says she will push on with her campaign to take the country out of the UK, even if she loses a British Supreme Court case seeking authorisation to call a new independence referendum.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold a referendum in October 2023, despite the UK government refusing to allow it.
The UK Supreme Court is due to hear arguments starting on Tuesday over whether the Scottish government can organise an independence vote without the consent of the UK government.
She said her aim to hold a referendum next year was realistic.
“There’s little point speculating on the outcome of a court hearing, but should that be yes, we have the plans ready to go to legislate,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon, who leads the Scottish National Party, said that if her government lost the case, she would make the next UK elections a de facto referendum on taking Scotland out of the union after more than 300 years.
A vote held without the approval of the UK government would not be legally binding.
Ms Sturgeon said that if the court blocked a referendum, “we put our case to people in an election or we give up on Scottish democracy".
“It should be a last resort. I don’t want to be in that position. I want to have a lawful referendum,” she said.
Scotland and England have been politically united since 1707. Scotland has had its own parliament and government since 1999 and makes its own laws on matters including public health and education.
The UK government in London controls matters such as defence and fiscal policy.
Voters in Scotland rejected independence in a 2014 referendum that was described as a once-in-a-generation choice, with 55 per cent opposing the move and 45 per cent supporting it.
Ms Sturgeon’s government has said the case for independence should be revisited because Britain’s departure from the EU and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have upended politics and the economy.
People in the UK voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but the majority of voters Scotland opposed the move.
Ms Sturgeon has said there is an “indisputable democratic mandate” for a new independence vote.
She has promised to produce documents in the coming weeks that outline the economic basis for independence and answer questions such as what currency Scotland would use after leaving the UK.
Polls suggest Scotland is evenly split on independence.
Labour Party politician Alistair Darling, a former chancellor of the exchequer, said polls showed a majority of Scots did not want a referendum any time soon.
“This country is tearing itself apart. And that uncertainty is damaging to our growth prospects and to our well-being,” he said.
On Sunday, SNP president Mike Russell addressed the party’s conference in Aberdeen and said the Supreme Court would “fail the people of Scotland” if it did not allow the Scottish government to call a second independence referendum.