Nicola Sturgeon has claimed Boris Johnson will not oppose a second independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority at the Holyrood elections.
The prime minister has previously rejected calls by the first minister to give consent for a second vote.
However, Ms Sturgeon revealed that she believes that discussions with UK Government have moved on.
In an interview with the Guardian, she said: “If people in Scotland vote for a party saying, ‘when the time is right, there should be an independence referendum’, you cannot stand in the way of that, and I don’t think that is what will happen.”
She also revealed that she feels discussion within the UK Government had “moved away from ‘we can stop a referendum’ to ‘when would it happen, and on what basis would it happen?’”
Ms Sturgeon added: “People will always challenge that because of what the supposed position of the UK Government is.”
She said she is “pretty confident” the SNP’s plan B of a referendum bill at Scottish Parliament will not be needed.
New referendum within the next few years
The SNP is aiming to hold a new independence referendum in the first half of the parliament, which is up to 2023.
However, this could be delayed due to Covid.
Ms Sturgeon told the Guardian: “If you’re somebody that voted no in 2014 and … because of Brexit or other things, are now open-minded to independence – and I know an awful lot of these people – and you hear somebody say they think they can bulldoze their way to independence in spite of public opinion, I would think, ‘maybe I don’t want to engage in this anymore.”
Mr Johnson is said to be adamant in private that he will not be the prime minister who permits a referendum and the Conservatives will be hammering home the message that holding such a poll during a pandemic would be deeply irresponsible.