NICOLA Sturgeon has told her own party to “stop obsessing all of the time” about the date of a second independence referendum.

Instead, the First Minister said the coming months should be used as an “opportunity” to persuade No voters of the case for Scotland maximising its potential outside the UK.

She said SNP activists should not "worry all the time about when we might vote again", but instead engage on the substantive arguments for independence.

The blunt message risks antagonising some of her own supporters and parts of the wider Yes movement which have been agitating for a referendum.

Around 40,000 supporters marched in support of independence in Glasgow last month, and another 10,000 marched in Dumfries last week.

In the SNP deputy leadership contest, most members cast their first preference vote for a candidate who wanted a referendum by the 2021 Holyrood election, and non-committal Economy Secretary Keith Brown only won after a redistribution of ballots.

However Ms Sturgeon, who says she has a "triple-lock mandate" to call a referendum by 2021, said she still expected another vote while she was First Minister.

The “stop obsessing” message, amid opposition claims Ms Sturgeon’s independence plans have stalled, reinforced more subtle comments to the SNP conference on Saturday.

Then, Ms Sturgeon told activists that, until the “fog of Brexit” lifted, they had a responsibility

“not just to focus on the ‘when’ of independence, but to use our energy and passion to persuade those who still ask ‘why?’ Right now, that is the more important task.”

After the SNP lost a third of its MPs in the general election, Ms Sturgeon “reset” her March 2017 plan for another referendum linked to Brexit.

She said she would set out her view on “the precise timetable for offering people a choice over the country’s future” when Brexit came into focus this autumn.

But on the BBC One’s Andrew Marr show she appeared to row back from that, saying she would not even consider the issue until there was more clarity.

The SNP leader was asked whether it was possible to have a second referendum before Scotland left the EU as part of Brexit in March 2019.

She said: “Anything in life is possible, but .. I feel that the uncertainty around Brexit right now is such that we shouldn’t make any decisions on timing about a possible second independence referendum, and I’ve said I won’t give that any further consideration until we get more clarity, which I hope will be sooner rather than later.

“What I was saying to my party conference yesterday was let’s stop obsessing all of the time about when we might get the chance to vote on independence again.

“Instead let’s engage people in the substantive arguments, let’s address people who still ask the question ‘why should Scotland be independent?’.

“This is a very good time to have a debate that is focused on maximising our opportunities as a country, rather than just resigning ourselves to the inevitable damage that Brexit seems destined to do to us.”

Press on the timing, given Brexit could mean an independent Scotland having to reapply for EU membership, Ms Sturgeon was asked if there was enough time between her looking at the timing issue in the autumn and March 2019 to hold a referendum.

She said: “No, but even if doesn’t happen before then Scotland will still have options.”

Asked if she was effectively ruling out a referendum until after Brexit, she said: “I’m not sure that’s a conclusion anybody should necessarily reach.”

Ms Sturgeon also said that she was writing to Speaker John Bercow asking for a vote on the devolved ‘power grab’ in the EU Withdrawal Bill, which returns to the Commons on Tuesday.

She said the Bill, which Holyrood has refused to endorse, was “unconstitutional” as it stands, given the conventions which underpin devolution.

She said: “This is quite an important issue of principle. This is not about giving the Scottish Parliament new powers or extra powers, it is simply about safeguarding the powers we already have.”

Later, on Sky news with Sophie Ridge, Mr Sturgeon was asked whether there would be a second referendum while she was First Minister.

She replied: “I think there will be. I think Scotland will become independent. My view is that that is the direction of travel. But on the question of timing, for the last 12 months, I’ve been saying very clearly that I don’t think it’s right to consider that decision while things are so unclear and so uncertain around Brexit.

“So as First Minister I won’t give consideration to the timing until we’ve got some Brexit clarity. The message I was giving to my party at our conference is that that gives us an opportunity, not to worry all the time about when we might vote again on independence, but instead to engage on the substance of the arguments, and to address people in Scotland who still ask why we should be independent.

“I think that debate is timely because there’s going to be change. Brexit makes that inevitable. Most people think Brexit will make the country poorer. So this is an opportunity to look at whether there’s a better alternative for Scotland, and focus on hope and optimism and how we maximise our potential as a country. So that’s the opportunity I was encouraging my party to grasp when I spoke to them yesterday”.

On BBC Sunday Politics Scotland, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford refused to say if there would be a referendum before the next Holyrood election.

He said there needed to be more clarity over Brexit, adding: “The people of Scotland will determine when the time is right for that. It will happen at the right time.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “The one person who needs to stop obsessing about independence is the First Minister. She could do that by taking the threat of another independence referendum off the table altogether.

“That way, the Scottish Government - for once - could concentrate on the job at hand.”