NICOLA Sturgeon has ordered civil servants to restart work on a new prospectus for independence despite lacking the power to hold a referendum.

The First Minister told MSPs the work was needed to give the public a “fully informed” choice on the country’s constitutional future.

The project had been suspended when the Covid pandemic struck early last year. 

However Ms Sturgeon did not announce a Referendum Bill this year.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon Covid update: When is the next announcement?

Ms Sturgeon made the announcement as part of the first SNP-Green Programme for Government, the Holyrood version of the Queen’s Speech at Westminster.

As well as the annual legislative statement, Ms Sturgeon also set out her priorities for the whole of the five-year parliament.

Ms Sturgeon said the Programme for Government “reaffirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to a referendum on independence”.

She said: “Our democratic mandate to allow people, not politicians, to decide the country’s future is beyond question.

“And at this juncture in history, it is essential that we consider the kind of country we want to be, and how best to secure it.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, choices fall to be made that will shape our economy and society for decades to come.

“Which Parliament - Westminster or Holyrood - should make these choices?

“And what principles will they be guided by?

“These are questions which cannot be avoided, nor postponed until the die is already cast. So we intend to offer that choice.

“We will do so only when the Covid crisis has passed but our aim, Covid permitting, is that it will be in the first half of this Parliament - before the end of 2023.

“Crucially, we will ensure that the choice - when it comes - is a fully informed one. 

To that end, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will now restart work on the detailed prospectus that will guide the decision.”

Boris Johnson has so far refused to grant Holyrood the power to make an independence referendum legally watertight, saying the focus should be on the recovery.

Ms Sturgeon has said that if the UK Government continues to block Indyref2, Holyrood will pass its own Referendum Bill with the aim of holding a vote without Westminster consent.

However the legislation would almost certainly be challenged at the UK Supreme Court, with experts predicting it would be struck down, putting the Indyref2 plan back to square one.

The SNP Government last published an independence prospectus in November 2013, the 650-page White Paper.

The SNP later updated its own economic blueprint in 2018, with the Growth Commission report written by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross attacked Ms Sturgeon for putting independence "front and centre" rather than the recovery from the Covid pandemic.

The Programme for Government is the first from a joint SNP-Green administration.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, now a minister, said: “I’m proud we will lead efforts to lower the emissions produced by Scotland’s buildings, and the increased investment announced by the First Minister will begin that work.

“This programme for government paves the way for a just transition for workers too. This includes the £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray, where alternative jobs in low carbon industries are most needed.

“I’m also proud to be leading a new deal for tenants. Our strategy will be published this year and will propose a system of rent controls that will tackle spiralling costs for those in the private rented sector.”