A LEADING pro-independence group has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to its members claiming "we are only weeks away" from a second referendum being called.

Business for Scotland (BfS) believes it will take place in autumn 2018 and a video message by Nicola Sturgeon backing a crowdfunding appeal will fuel speculation this is a credible date and the referendum countdown is on the point of being triggered.

BfS was widely viewed as one of the most influential parts of the Yes movement in 2014 and has retained thousands of members.

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The group has now emailed its membership about what is says is a "pivotal point in our nation's history", indicating that the second referendum will take place in the autumn of 2018.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp of BfS asked business backers for donations to "support our fast start to the indyref2 campaign".

The BFS website also includes an 'indyref2 crowdfunder' appeal with a video message from Nicola Sturgeon, who says the group is "going from strength to strength".

MacIntyre-Kemp, in the email to supporters, said a second independence referendum is "almost upon us".

He said: "It looks like we are only weeks away from an announcement that a second referendum on Scotland's independence will take place in the autumn of 2018.

"I am sure you were as gutted as I was at the result in 2014, and are just as determined as I am that win this time.

"We don't receive any monies other than memberships and donations and are not connected to any political party, so we need to independently increase funds now to have a fast start to our indyref2 campaign.

"I hope that you will be able to help us again at this pivotal point in our nation's history and support our fast start to the indyref2 campaign."

BFS supporter, James Mackenzie, the commercial director of Cutbot, a media and parliamentary monitoring company in Edinburgh, said calling a second referendum would protect Scotland from a hard Brexit.

He said: "If this is the timescale that the pro-independence parties in Holyrood are looking at, then it makes good sense from a business perspective.

"A decision in favour of independence in autumn 2018 would allow Scotland to remain in the EU rather than being dragged out and then working to get back in."

The BFS funding appeal came as independence supporters agreed to take the first steps towards preparing a campaign on the ground amid a “rapidly growing sense of urgency” about a second referendum being called.

A private meeting of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) organising committee yesterday agreed to begin preparatory work to ensure there are activists ready in all parts of Scotland to campaign for a Yes vote.

The SIC’s organising committee discussed concerns about the lack of any nationwide organisation to campaign for independence after Yes Scotland was disbanded.

Organisers said that although the decision was not the launch of a 'Yes Scotland 2', it would make it easier to run such a campaign when it is finally set up.

Robin McAlpine of SIC, said: “Preparation is always the key to victory and a we seem to be edging ever nearer to a new independence campaign. The time for preparation is undoubtedly upon us.

"If we don’t coordinate a national campaign and if we don’t ensure that every square inch of Scotland is ready to fight the next campaign then we leave far too much to chance.

"This meeting is really the result of a rapidly growing sense of urgency.”

Independence campaigner and actor, Elaine C Smith, said SIC's plan would help activists prepare for a indyref2.

She said: “Those of us involved in the convention recognise that much work has to be done to build on the many achievements of the Yes campaign. We are also aware of how much work we need to do to win.

"We’re not trying to start a new campaign but to get people together to really prepare so that when the time comes for that campaign we’re really ready to do what it takes to win.

"We’re looking at how to get all the local campaigns properly coordinated and also how to get the very substantial research done on how to get the tone and messages of a campaign right.

"We may only get one more shot at this and so it’s really important that we’re as well prepared as we can be.”