An SNP Cabinet Secretary who is standing to be his party’s depute leader has said he has a “degree of sympathy” for a second Brexit referendum.

Keith Brown made the comment after former Scottish Government special adviser Noel Dolan wrote that the SNP should back the move.

However, the two other leadership contenders, activist Julie Hepburn and councillor Chris McEleny, repeated their calls for an independence referendum.

The three-way contest, which ends in June, has been dominated by the timing of a second vote on independence.

McEleny wants another vote within 18 months, Hepburn has said there should be a referendum in this Holyrood term, while Brown has stressed the importance of campaign readiness.

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Dolan’s intervention, in which he called for the SNP to back a referendum on the final Brexit deal, has added another dynamic to the contest.

Brown, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, told the Sunday Herald: "I understand and have a degree of sympathy with the proposal for a confirmatory referendum on Brexit. However, somewhat incredibly, we do not have any clarity on what the Brexit Deal will be, even though we are only a few months away from the deadline. It seems sensible to keep this under consideration as we gain more clarity on the final Brexit Deal.”

Hepburn said: “I wouldn't rule it out at this stage, but my focus is on ensuring we secure independence for Scotland through a referendum at the earliest opportunity, so that we can take those major decisions about our future here in Scotland.”

McEleny, who also stood to be depute leader in 2016, said: “It’s not the SNP’s policy to push for a second Brexit referendum. But as people didn’t have a clear idea of what they were voting for in the EU referendum, the justification for another EU referendum on the terms of the deal which the Tories are fighting amongst themselves with, may actually become hard to resist."

He added: “But what we do know is that we can't rely on the Tories for a fair Brexit deal for any part of the UK, not in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England. And with their recent power grab on the Scottish parliament, we must take our future into our hands by calling a new Scottish independence referendum within the next 18 months.”