Nicola Sturgeon took the oath of office Wednesday to return as Scotland's first minister following an election earlier this month that saw her Scottish National Party (SNP) win a resounding election victory, allowing her to push ahead with plans for a second independence referendum.
The SNP won 64 seats in the Scottish parliament, just one short of an overall majority. But the Green Party, which also supports independence, won eight seats, more than enough to allow Sturgeon and her party to control the political agenda in Scotland.
In a statement issued following her swearing in and the announcement of her Cabinet, Sturgeon called the coming parliamentary term "unquestionably the most important one the nation has faced since devolution, (when Scotland was allowed to form its own parliament) more than 20 years ago."
She said recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, the "ongoing tests posed by Brexit," and climate change are among her top priorities. But, she added, "As I have made clear, when the crisis is over and the time is right, Scotland must and will have the chance to choose its future in line with the unquestionable democratic mandate for that choice."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ruling Conservative Party, which is in the minority in Scotland, strongly oppose a referendum, saying the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted against independence, by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
But issues such as Brexit, which a majority in Scotland opposes, and Johnson's overall unpopularity in Scotland have brought the topic back in recent years. Sturgeon believes the recent elections give her a mandate to pursue it.
Under the 1998 Scotland Act — which created the Scottish parliament and devolved some powers to Edinburgh from London — all matters relating to the "Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" are reserved for the U.K. parliament.
Under the act, the U.K. parliament can grant the Scottish government authority to hold a referendum, a process that was used to allow the 2014 plebiscite to go ahead and which Sturgeon said should unfold again for a new referendum.
A poll conducted for the Scotsman newspaper shows 49 percent of those surveyed would not support Scottish Independence, with 42 percent saying they would. Eight percent were undecided.