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An Ipsos MORI survey for STV news found 50 per cent backing for separation and 50 per cent for the Union among those certain to vote in a second referendum.

My hunch is that the SNP's record in government is starting to catch up with it, that Ms Sturgeon will - like her predecessor - end up loved by nationalists by not so much by unionists and that the SNP senses that the clock is ticking.

While insisting that no final decision had yet been made on whether to hold another vote, she said she was not "bluffing" about the possibility.

"I'm not ruling anything out", said Ms Sturgeon, speaking to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Asked if she was not ruling out a referendum next year, Mrs Sturgeon added: 'I'm not ruling anything out'.

In the 2014 independence vote Scotland voted to remain by 55% to 45%.

Meanwhile, the former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has warned Theresa May not to make the next referendum campaign a battle between Westminster and Holyrood, arguing that it must be "must more Scottish-centric" to stop a Yes vote.

"The first minister has been all over the place - one week she threatens a vote, the next week she backs away from one", Dugdale said, responding to Sturgeon's BBC interview.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is indicating the country's likely to have another vote next year on whether it wants to stay in the UK.

Sources also say that No10 would try to delay the vote until Britain has left the EU.

There is speculation that Sturgeon may announce a second referendum at the SNP conference next weekend (17-18 March).

In contrast, 26% strongly disagree with the idea of a second Brexit referendum while 14% tend to agree, with 6% who neither agreed nor disagreed and 2% who said they did not know.

Commenting on using Brexit to further independence claims, she added: "I deliberately didn't the morning after the European Union referendum say, 'Right, that's it we're off and we're having a second independence referendum'".

The SNP is also concerned that the United Kingdom government will embark on a "power grab" after Brexit by taking control of policies that are vital to Scotland - like fisheries and agriculture - rather than devolving control of these policies to the Scottish government.

"I'm not and I never have been", she said.

If she is now willing to discuss the timing of a second vote in public, consideration of another independence referendum is far beyond the hypothetical.


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