Nicola Sturgeon is laying the groundwork for a second Scottish independence referendum many believe could lead to the break-up of the Union.

Scotland’s First Minister will use the next few weeks to draw up a timetable and a question to put to voters, with a bill published ahead of Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021.

“Indyref 2” has been on the backburner during the pandemic.

But the issue will not go away, with wounds still raw after the 2014 vote where 55% of Scots chose to stay in.

And, despite the threat of a hard border with England, austerity and the end of the Union, independence is more popular than ever.

Independence is more popular than ever

During her speech this week Ms Sturgeon said: “We will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country and seek a clear endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose our own future.”

Some believe she has been forced into the move to calm tension in her party or put pressure on Westminster.

One insider said: “There’s a different feel to it this time. Sturgeon has never been in a hurry for a referendum, and it’s not like they will set a date now. But make no mistake, it’s coming.”

Some believe the vote will be decided on economic arguments

Polling shows support for independence has been boosted by the pandemic as well as Brexit.

YouGov’s latest survey says that after taking out “don’t knows”, “Yes” is on 53% with “No” is on 47%. This, it says, is the largest lead of any YouGov poll on the matter.

And the performance of Boris Johnson and his government have fuelled that support.

Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The Tories can’t say they weren’t warned.

“During their leadership contest, a poll north of the border suggested support for independence would rise to 55% if Boris Johnson – to many Scots the quintessential English toff – emerged as the winner.

“Add to that the perception in Scotland that Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic has been so much better than the PM’s, then throw in the mess Scottish Labour is in, and the SNP looks set for a resounding victory in the Holyrood elections.

“That win will inevitably be seen in Edinburgh as a mandate for IndyRef 2. Legally, the decision to allow one probably remains with Westminster but politically, even morally, the pressure will be incredibly hard to resist.”

One Holyrood source agreed, saying: “We have to start making the case now for allowing a referendum but laying out a clear case for staying.

“Johnson has been a gift. He represents everything people up here hate – an old-Etonian establishment figure.

“The fact he has said he won’t allow another referendum is fuel to the fire.”

Some believe the vote will be decided on economic arguments.

A poll showed 42% think an independent Scotland would be worse off. Just 24% think the opposite.

Support for a Wales breakaway is growing too and in Ireland 46% of voters told pollsters they want reunification, while 45% do not.

Pro-union protestors gesture beside police during a demonstration at George Square in Glasgow in 2014

But Scotland is the most imminent threat to the Union and the SNP will fight any referendum refusal.

Alex Neil, a former SNP health secretary, has called for peaceful mass disobedience campaigns.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil says his 47 SNP Westminster coll-eagues could resign and stand on an independence ticket in by-elections.

One insider said: “It’s a timebomb and the only conclusion I can see is that it leads to the end of the Union.”