Nicola Sturgeon has called for a new Scottish independence referendum in the second half of next year.
Scotland’s First Minister made the comments on a visit to Dublin, where she said the “latter half” of 2020 would be the “right time” for a new poll.
The SNP leader predicted victory in a second vote, with Scotland becoming “an independent country just like Ireland”.
She said: “There will be another Scottish independence referendum and I will make a prediction today that Scotland will vote for independence and we will become an independent country just like Ireland, and the strong relationship between our two countries now will become even stronger soon.
“I want to see Scotland having the choice of independence within this term of the Scottish Parliament, which ends in May 2021, so towards the latter half of next year would be when I think is the right time for that choice.”
Ms Sturgeon criticised the UK Government for treating Scotland with “utter contempt” over Brexit during the visit, when she met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
In contrast, she said Ireland had been shown “solidarity and support” by the EU.
She said: “We voted over 60% to remain, we have tried very hard in the wake of the UK-wide Brexit vote to find compromises and protect our interests, and we have worked hard across party lines to try to prevent the worst impact of Brexit, and we have been ignored.
“Scotland has been treated with contempt by Westminster and people are contrasting that with Ireland, that has been shown real solidarity and support from the European Union.
“Suddenly this idea of being a small independent country in the European Union, we only have to look at Ireland to see the benefits of that and many people are having their eyes opened.”
The SNP has examined Ireland’s path to independence and planned to keep the pound before moving to a Scottish currency, she told journalist Dearbhail McDonald at the Royal Irish Academy.
“The proposition that my party is putting forward now is that we should follow the same path that Ireland followed when it became independent,” she said.
“We use the pound which is our currency until such times as the economic conditions are right to move to an independent Scottish currency – it’s a perfectly well-trodden path.”
Ms Sturgeon said Scottish independence would strengthen the relationship between her nation and Ireland, adding her visit had “highlighted the benefits of EU membership for Ireland” and exactly what Scotland would miss out on “if taken out of the EU against our will”.
“Ireland is Scotland’s closest international trading partner and our fifth largest export market,” she said.
“It is in the interest of both countries to ensure that we continue to work together and cooperate, not just on an economic level but also in dealing with similar challenges around political engagement.
“This is exactly why we must strengthen, not strain these bonds.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “The SNP went into this election pretending to voters that it was nothing to do with independence.
“Yet within hours of it being announced, Nicola Sturgeon is specifically using it to argue for separation.
“That’s fraudulent behaviour from an SNP government that’s meant to be running the country, not trying to break it up.
“Voters punished Nicola Sturgeon last time she abused the Brexit process for her own selfish aims. They will do so again if this hypocritical deceit continues.”