ALEX Salmond has dramatically intervened on the eve of the SNP conference to promote a second independence referendum through his Kremlin-TV show.

With Nicola Sturgeon facing accusations of dithering over when to push for another vote, her predecessor contrasted the “cautious” SNP leadership with "urgency" of the Yes movement, which he said was more active today than in 2014.

He cited the strong turnout at recent Yes rallies, many of which explicitly demanded Ms Sturgeon use her so-called “triple-lock mandate” to deliver another vote quickly.

In another coded dig at Ms Sturgeon, Mr Salmond used his weekly show on RT to gave a platform to three senior SNP figures who want a referendum within months.

Former cabinet secretary Alex Neil, former Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick and MP Angus Brendan MacNeil talked about a referendum as soon as practically possible.

Although there is no main hall debate on an independence referendum at the SNP conference, which starts on Sunday, Mr Salmond repeatedly asked his guests how it would be advanced there.

His intervention underlined the tensions within the SNP and Yes movement over when to push for another referendum.

Although Theresa May would refuse permission for one, the issue could be used by the SNP to boost votes at the next Holyrood election. 

Mr Salmond is currently taking Ms Sturgeon's government to court over its handling of two complaints of sexual misconduct against him, which he strongly denies.

Ms Sturgeon called a referendum in March 2017 because of Brexit, but shelved her plans after the SNP lost a third of its seats in the general election, most to the Tories.

She was due to update Holyrood this month on a “precise timescale” for giving Scots a choice between Brexit and independence, but this week said it might be November or December before she was able to do so.

Many in her own party want her to demand a referendum as soon as possible in case a pro-Union majority at Holyrood after the 2021 election makes it impossible.

Mr Salmond’s show was billed on RT as a look at Europe and Scottish independence “in the run up to the SNP conference in Glasgow this weekend”.

In his introduction, Mr Salmond said the SNP were grappling with "two referenda... whether to support another one on Europe, while promoting another one on Scottish independence.

“All of this while support for independence remains at a very high level and, crucially, the activist base, as measured by the turnout at rallies, seems much more mobilised even than in 2014.”

He said Mr MacNeil had “caused a big stir” by saying there should be a referendum by March 2019, and asked Mr Neil: “Do you see the urgency that Angus MacNeil sees, or are you more cautious, like the party leadership?”

Mr Neil replied: “The quicker we get independence the better.

"Once we know the deal, between the UK and the EU, then I think we can map out very clearly a way forward as quickly as possible towards achieving independence.

“We need independence as urgently as possible so we can get Scotland back up to the top echelons of economic performance.”

Asked by Mr Salmond if he would be “champing at the bit to have another go at the independence issue” at SNP conference, Mr Neil replied: “Everyone in the SNP is champing at the bit for an early referendum as early as possible but I think there is a debate in the party about just exactly when the timing is.”

Asked about his March 2019 plan for an independence referendum, Mr MacNeil said: “If you have no deal [on Brexit], the Scottish government has to be ready with some life jackets, some lifeboats, some life raft or other to get out us of the sinking ship that is the UK.”

Mr Salmond also asked how the SNP should react to Mrs May’s final Brexit deal.

Mr MacNeil said: “The advice (to SNP leaders) is obvious: get yourselves on a footing for the independence referendum, use the mandate that the Scottish government has due to the Euro referendum of 2016 and remember, David Cameron stamped all over the Scottish election by insisting he held his European referendum over that same campaign period.

“We didn’t like it at the time but the advantage it has given us now is that it has given us a clear mandate. There is nothing abstract about that mandate. It’s a very concrete mandate, and I think it should be used, and I think the opportunity and the time is coming very soon.”

Mr Salmond asked Ms Marwick why she thought Yes marches were bigger in Scotland “when we don’t have an independence process” than they were in 2014.

Ms Marwick said: “I think there is a desire for the process of independence to be moved forward by many people.

“I think they see that is a way of putting pressure on everybody involved, to say, ‘There is a case for this, you want it, we need to move quicker.'

“The ultimate decision is going to be... is it going to be just after Brexit? Is it going to be afterwards? Because of course there is also a political mandate for it.”

Ending the show, Mr Salmond’s co-presenter, former SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, also spoke of the Yes movement’s urgent desire for another referendum.

She said: “The debate in the SNP is concentrated on how quickly to push forward on another independence referendum. The activist base is champing at the bit, but the leadership is more cautious, fearing that a second defeat could finish the cause for the foreseeable future.

“From two ends of the European debate, [Brexiter] Alex Neil and [Remainer] Angus MacNeil now unite to press for urgency in addressing the independence test.

“They are moved by the thought that the Westminster establishment has never been weaker, while a European future for Scotland, whether it be in the European Union of EFTA, would never be easier to negotiate.

“One thing is for certain, when the All Under One Banner rally takes place this Saturday in Edinburgh, and the crowd are asked in the time-honoured fashion, what do they want? the answer will be independence, and the answer on timescale will be now."

Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Only the extremist nationalists want to enter another divisive referendum. The discredited Salmond Show was a fitting location for such a discussion.”

Scottish LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “On the day that British intelligence warns of Russian cyber incursions, it's disappointing to see a sitting SNP MSP and an MP among those taking to Putin's propaganda channel to advocate for the break up of Britain.

"We all know that the SNP will put independence before any other issue. It’s a shame that includes solidarity with those killed or imprisoned by the Putin regime. The SNP should join the Scottish Liberal Democrats in boycotting Russian state media.

"Nicola Sturgeon should read the riot act to her parliamentarians, instruct them to stay off RT and use her conference speech this weekend to take independence off the table."

Asked if Ms Sturgeon was comfortable with a second referendum being discussed on a Kremlin-funded station, her official a spokesman said: “I think the First Minister has already made her views on RT crystal clear.

“She said when this first emerged that it’s not the choice of channel that she would have advised, but she wasn’t involved. Her views on that are well known.”

He said Ms Sturgeon had previously made clear the case for independence has never been “as compelling or strong as it is now” amid the chaos of Brexit.

Mr Salmond also featured at First Minister’s Questions, when Ms Sturgeon denied any knowledge of any misconduct complaints having been “swept under the carpet”.

She said: “The issues are not always comfortable ones - I perhaps know that more than most at this point - but it is at times when things are not comfortable that leaders are tested on whether their rhetoric is just that or whether they are prepared to put their words into action.

"It is important that people who come forward with complaints are not put on trial and that there is due process for all concerned, including for those who are being complained about. We must not allow complaints to be swept under the carpet.”