NICOLA Sturgeon has promised not to “bludgeon” a divided Scotland into backing independence.

The First Minister said she would instead advance a second referendum “with responsibility, humility and only when the crisis of Covid has passed”.

She said: “I am acutely aware that opinion on whether or not Scotland should be independent is evenly balanced. My decisions as a First Minister for all of Scotland will always be mindful of that.”

Ms Sturgeon made the commitment after MSPs re-eleted her as First Minister.

She was immediately urged not to appoint a “minister for the referendum” in her imminent reshuffle and create a post of cabinet secretary for the recovery instead.

However Ms Sturgeon said she had a clear mandate for Indyref2 over the next five-year term of parliament after her party's election win 12 days ago.

The SNP won 64 of the 129 MSPs at Holyrood, one short of a one-party majority, with the Scottish Greens winning another eight, although one quit to be Presiding Officer.

Ms Sturgeon has said her goal is to hold Indyref2 by 2024, Covid permitting, with independence following in 2026.

However Boris Johnson has so far refused to transfer referendum powers to Holyrood, saying “now is not the time”, and that the focus should be on the economic recovery.

Addressing MSPs after being re-elected FM, Ms Sturgeon promised to lead a “government of action”, focusing on the NHS, Covid, education and social care in the first 100 days. 

She also addressed the subject of another referendum.

She said: “By any measure of parliamentary democracy there is a clear mandate for a referendum within this term of parliament.

"It is important in the interests of democracy for that to be acknowledged and respected.

“But it is also important that I exercise that mandate with responsibility, humility and only when the crisis of Covid has passed. I give that commitment today.

“I believe that being independent will give Scotland, now and in the future, the best chance of making the most of our vast talents and resources.

“With independence the decisions that shape our future will lie with us.

“But I have always believed that how we achieve independence is as important as the outcome itself. It will determine the strength and the foundation on which we build.

“I am acutely aware that opinion on whether of not Scotland should be independent is evenly balanced.

“My decisions as a First Minister for all of Scotland will always be mindful of that. But that should apply to all of us.

“The views of those who do not support independence must not beignored. You mustn’t feel as if you are being bludgeoned towards an outcome you have not been persuaded of.

“But by the same token, the views of those who do support independence can’t be ignored either. We can’t simply be told there is no democratic route to seeking the future we want for our country.”

Earlier, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie urged Ms Sturgeon not to appoint a new cabinet secretary for the constitution in her looming reshuffle.

The last holder of the post, Michael Russell, stepped down at the election, leaving the role vacant.

Urging work on the recovery instead, Mr Russell said: “I do appeal to the First Minister, as she starts to shape the nominations for her cabinet, not to appoint a minister for the constitution. I want her to reflect that the election was about putting recovery first.

“There should be no place in this new government for a minister for the referendum.

“We cannot afford for talented civil servants to be to focus on a new independence white paper, when we need the best to be focused on the recovery.

“I hope the First Minister appoints a minister for the recovery. They would be a senior appointment to focus the Government’s energy.

“The recovery secretary would use the civil service expertise to plan a recovery that balances the needs of the health service, education, business and many other areas of our life. “That appointment would be a powerful signal of the priority for this parliament.

“I hope the First Minister will take on this point.”