A SECOND independence referendum is still under consideration for around March 2019, the Deputy First Minister has confirmed.

John Swinney said the SNP will continue to reflect on its severe losses in the General Election but insisted if it presses ahead with another referendum it is still aiming for the end of the two- year Brexit process triggered last March.

However, Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who can veto a legally decisive vote, said he cannot foresee any circumstances that would justify another referendum before the 2021 Holyrood elections.

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Nicola Sturgeon faces the dilemma of risking another defeat by demanding a quick referendum while she has a majority in parliament but a minority in public opinion – or playing the long game in the hope of winning a fresh mandate in 2021 after 14 years in government and a sobering Westminster election.

Mr Swinney said: “Our proposal always was that we should have this referendum, if we have it, at the end of the Brexit process Scottish ministers insist their flagship Scotland’s Place In Europe paper, which includes the threat of a second referendum, is back on the table despite a firm rejection by UK Brexit Secretary David Davis.

The SNP believes its two “compromise” options of keeping the UK in the single market or a special deal to keep Scotland in the single market are back in play, despite opposition by both the Tories and Labour.

If these “compromises” are roundly rejected again, the march towards a second independence referendum at the end of the Brexit process is expected to continue.

Pressed on when the SNP believes the end of the Brexit process will be, Mr Swinney said: “The Prime Minister has told us it’s two years away from the triggering of Article 50.

"That has been the clear commitment given by the UK Government and we set our proposals on the basis of that commitment.”

However, Mr Mundell said he does not believe the Brexit process will have played out by 2021.

He said: “I don’t think I could be clearer: I don’t see any circumstances in which there is going to be another independence referendum before the 2021 Scottish 

Parliament elections. But it is for Nicola Sturgeon to take the issue off the table.”

Senior SNP figures are sending mixed messages on the march towards a second referendum.

Ian Blackford, the party’s new leader at Westminster, insists independence “is not off the table”.

He said: “The Scottish Parliament election took place in 2016 when the SNP manifesto had a very specific commitment that there could be a new referendum if Scotland was dragged out of the EU against its will. 

It’s well recognised that if we can’t protect Scotland from a hard Brexit the mandate exists to give the people of 
Scotland a say over their future.”

But MP Tommy Sheppard, who failed in a bid to be Westminster leader, said the independence campaign should be “parked” until Brexit negotiations are over.

He said: “Amid the current chaos in Westminster, it seems certain that a hard Brexit is now off the table, and the possibility of bespoke solutions for nations and regions is growing.

It follows, therefore, that it is now an option to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude before forming a view on whether the extent of change justifies a second independence referendum."