Scotland’s first minister has insisted that a legal referendum is the only way for the country to win independence.
Nicola Sturgeon dismissed claims that the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats in a general election would be enough for independence to be declared.
She said there was “no easy or shortcut route to independence” and that a future referendum had to be “beyond any doubt in terms of its legitimacy”.
But she insisted that independence was now closer than ever.
The SNP leader was speaking to BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor ahead of her party’s three-day conference, which opens in Aberdeen on Sunday afternoon.
Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly said she wants to hold a second referendum on independence next year – but the move has been ruled out by the UK government.
And she is facing mounting pressure from some SNP activists and MPs, as well as others in the wider independence movement, to adopt a so-called Plan B if consent for a referendum is not granted.
There have been calls for an unofficial independence referendum to be held, similar to the disputed one in Catalonia in 2017.
And others, including MP Angus MacNeil, have suggested that winning a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster should be enough for independence negotiations to begin without the need for a referendum – which was once the SNP’s official policy.
However Ms Sturgeon insisted: “I have campaigned for independence all of my life. If there was an easy or shortcut route I would have taken it by now.
“We have to demonstrate majority support for independence in a process that is legal and legitimate and that crucially – not just domestically in the UK but internationally and in Europe in particular – will be accepted. That is the right way to go.”
A general election is widely expected to be held before the end of the year, which Ms Sturgeon said would offer Scottish voters the chance to demonstrate their support for a referendum and independence.
But she pointed out that the SNP has previously won a majority of Scottish seats in a general election on a minority of the votes.
And she said “nobody in Europe would listen to me in terms of the legitimacy of that” if she was to claim it was a mandate for independence.
The SNP leader added: “I am absolutely confident we will win independence sooner rather than later, but the only way to do that is to clearly demonstrate that the majority of people in Scotland want it.
“I think we’re closer to that than we’ve ever been before and we should stick with that course, because it’s the right one and ultimately it will be the successful one”.
Ms Sturgeon also rejected suggestions that a referendum might ultimately be delivered by a different leader, after Mr MacNeil spoke of fellow MP Joanna Cherry as “the next SNP leader in waiting”.
She said: “With the greatest of respect, I’m the leader of the SNP. For as long as I’m leader, which is entirely down to my party, I’ll continue to take the steps I think are right for my party and right in terms of achieving independence.
“I’ve worked for that goal all my adult life, and I believe heart and head that if we keep playing with the heid, that we’re closer to achieving it than ever before.”