NICOLA Sturgeon has said the case for Scottish independence has “never been greater” as she underlined her commitment to the SNP’s core policy during an interview on the opening day of her party’s three-day annual conference.

The First Minister, who will address activists in her closing speech tomorrow, said she would continue to make the case for independence as the political and economic situation involving the UK leaving the European Union developed.

Despite suggestions she may move the timing of a second referendum until after the next Holyrood election in 2021, the SNP leader left the door open to the possibility of a vote before then.

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Sturgeon told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “On the question of independence, when I watch and when many people watch the utter chaos that is now engulfing the UK, when we look forward and see the implic- ations of Brexit, that slow motion car crash that is developing right now, then actually the case for Scotland being in control of our destiny, having control over the decisions that shape our lives, has arguably never been greater and that’s a case I will continue to make,”

But, in a reference to comments she made in Holyrood after the General Election and in interviews since then, she added: “There is a sense that because of the uncertainty of Brexit, because things feel to be up in the air right now, it is premature to effect- ively set a date right now. We need to let the dust settle. That is what I have accepted.”

The First Minister announced in June a “reset” of the timing for a fresh vote on Scotland’s place in the UK, saying it was likely the Scottish Government’s view on this would be set out in the autumn of 2018.

However, yesterday she appeared to push back the timing a little in terms of when she may decide on plans for a new vote, telling interviewer Peston that clarity on what the UK’s Brexit deal would be might not emerge until the end of next year.

Sturgeon was also asked about Theresa May’s comments, made in her speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, that the Tories “saved the Union”. The First Minister said that May was “clutching at straws.”

Sturgeon had originally wanted to hold a second vote on independence sometime between autumn 2018 and the spring of 2019, but moved away from the certainty of this position when she addressed Holyrood in June.

The SNP lost 21 MPs, including former First Minister Alex Salmond and Westminster leader Angus Robertson, in June’s General Election, with some blaming the prospect of an imminent second referendum.

But yesterday the First Minister was clear that having a vote on leaving the UK must remain an option for Scotland – where 62 per cent of voters backed staying in the EU in 2016 – so the country could avoid a Brexit “disaster”.

The First Minister said: “Brexit is not a circumstance I want to be in. I think the whole thing is a disaster and I think it is going to get worse. So I’ve tried to judge things as best as I can based on the best interests of Scotland.

“I think we will have to have some clarity towards the end of next year, because the exit point is March 2019 and Europe says, and I think Theresa May accepts this, there will be a period of ratification of whatever has been agreed. I think that is the point to take a fresh look at it, at timing.”

While the Spanish government declared the Catalan independence referendum illegal, Sturgeon said the precedent set in the 2014 vote, which had been agreed by both the UK and Scottish governments, was the “best way to do it”.

She stated: “That precedent is there and that is the one we should seek to have used when we look at these issues again.”

With the UK due to leave the European Union in March 2019, Sturgeon was clear she did “not want Scotland to feel as if it has no option but to accept a bad deal”.

The First Minister said: “I have a mandate, a hard-won mandate in an election reinforced since then, to give people a choice over our future once we know what the terms of Brexit, whether that is a deal, no deal, or a terrible deal look like.

“That is the option that has to be there for Scotland. Not to have the inevitability of being taken down a damaging path by Westminster but to have the option of choosing something different. I won’t consider the timing of that until we’ve got that clarity, but it has to be an option for people because otherwise we are in this pos- ition of having no control over our own future.”

Sturgeon’s position was underlined by Brexit Minister Mike Russell, who told BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland, that it was right that people in Scotland would continue to have a choice over its constitutional future in light of a “disastrous” Brexit. “The only alternative to Brexit – if Brexit takes place and things look so cloudy now it’s difficult to know what’s going to happen – the only alternative to that is independence, there will be no status quo,” he said.

Russell told the programme the First Minister hoped to meet with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to discuss both a second independence referendum, which the LibDems oppose, and a second EU referendum which his party back.

“We will talk about the question of referenda. I have a view of referenda, he has a view of referenda. Let’s see if we can bring those views together,” Russell said.

He also said he was “hopeful” the Tories would accept SNP amendments to the EU withdrawal bill, but if they did not, Holyrood would not give its backing to the bill, in the form of a legislative consent motion. “If they don’t make those changes [a legislative consent motion] will not happen,” he said.

Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said last month that they would cooperate to prepare for Brexit if the UK Government accepted amendments which protected the devolution settlements.