ONE of the candidates to be Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP deputy has described dissolving the Union after 300 years as essentially a “piece of bureaucracy” to get on with.

Activist Julie Hepburn, who has called for a second independence referendum by 2021, was accused by the Tories of living in “dreamland” after the remark.

SNP members are currently voting on who should replace former MP Angus Robertson as deputy leader, with the result due to be announced at the party’s conference on June 8.

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Ms Hepburn, who is married to employability minister Jamie Hepburn, is standing against Economy Secretary Keith Brown and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny.

In an interview with the independence-supporting Common Space website, Ms Hepburn said she wanted the SNP to run its own independence campaign in a future referendum, rather than try to resurrect the cross-party Yes Scotland effort of 2014.

She said: “It is important to recognise that the SNP do not own the concept of independence, but we do have a responsibility to lead us to independence.”

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She went on: “For me, independence is just something we have to do to get on with the things I want to achieve, more like a necessary piece of bureaucracy than an end goal.

“The SNP is the most viable route to independence, and that's why I am so committed to the party.

Independence now represents more continuity for the things people care about because of the route the UK has taken since 2014.”

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “If Julie Hepburn thinks the break-up of Britain would be merely bureaucratic, she’s in dreamland.

“As the SNP’s separation blueprint confirmed, independence would likely bring nothing but hardship to people’s pockets.

“The SNP representatives, particularly those standing for deputy leadership, need to get their head round the fact Scotland voted decisively to stay in the UK.”

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A Scottish LibDem spokesperson added: "It’s astonishing that Julie Hepburn appears to have absolutely no ideas for what to do with the immense powers the Scottish Government currently has on health, education, mental health and much more.

"It's a lack of practical vision that explains why the public is right to lose faith in the SNP. It sounds like she could defect to another party at any time."