Nicola Sturgeon has warned her party it must “wait impatiently” for independence, as she insisted the Yes movement’s goal was in sight but was unable to say when it would arrive.

Closing an SNP conference at which tensions over the timing of a second referendum spilled over, the First Minister told activists the “fog of Brexit” needed to clear before any new vote.

She said two years of chaos and incompetence of the UK government since the EU referendum had shown why Scotland needed to be independent and made it more likely.

“A better future is within our grasp, and together we are going to make it happen,” she said.

However she also stressed that a large amount of work lay ahead, telling delegates they still had to build and sell a persuasive economic case for leaving the UK.

She said the “passion” of the Yes movement was not in doubt, saying recent marches by tens of thousands of supporters for independence had gladdened her heart.

But in a key passage, she said: “Our job is to take that passion and blend it with pragmatism, perseverance and patience to persuade those not yet persuaded.”

She said the “future relationship between the UK and the EU”, a highly elastic formula, would determine the context in which Scotland would become independent.

She said: “The detail of that will shape some of the answers that people want. But as we wait - impatiently, at times, I know - for this phase of negotiations to conclude and for the fog of Brexit to clear, be in no doubt about this.

“The last two years have shown why Scotland needs to be independent.

“And I am more confident than ever that Scotland will be independent.”

She said the mess over Brexit suggested an update to a famous Winston Churchill quote.

“Well when the history books tell the story of this Tory government, selfishly driving the UK towards a hard Brexit just to appease its own ideologues, the verdict will be damning.

“Never has so much been lost by so many to satisfy so few.”

The 50-minute speech at the SEC campus in Glasgow was designed to both energise her troops with talk of independence and instil a sense of realism about the need for patience.

It followed tensions over the timing of another referendum spilling over in recent days.

WIth Theresa May refusing to grant another referendum, two MPs suggested alternative routes, despite party policy being to demand a rerun of the legally binding vote of 2014.

On Sunday, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC said a “democratic event” such as a general election could deliver independence instead of a referendum, while the following day her Westminster colleague Angus MacNeil warned the SNP must not “dither” on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon said that it was unstainable for Westminster to deny a referendum indefinitely if that was will of the Scottish people.

She said: “Now we have Tory and Labour politicians queuing up to tell us that the decision about Scotland’s future belongs, not to the people, but to Westminster.

“Well, let us send this message today. You can oppose independence - that is your democratic right. But you cannot - and you will not - deny Scotland’s right to choose.”

Earlier, constitutional affairs secretary Michael Russell also urged caution on a referendum.

He said those impatient for a new vote that they must wait for the “right moment”.

Ms Sturgeon also made an extended attack on Labour, a sign she wants to avoid a repeat of last year’s switch by many SNP supporters to Jeremy Corbyn’s party in a snap election.

She said Labour had sounded like an “SNP policy tribute act” at its recent conference, copying ideas on public utilities, prescription charges, industrial policy, and fairer taxes

She said: “The SNP it isn’t just rhetoric. We win public support, we get ourselves elected, we put our money where our mouth is and we improve lives each and every day. Just think how much more we could do free of the chaos and incompetence of Westminster.”

The SNP leader also announced a series of new policies on employment and the NHS.

To attract more trainee nurses, bursaries will from £6500 to £8100 next year and then to £10,000 the year after that, compared to the abolition of bursaries in England.

She said: “We know the value of our nurses. We know the value of our NHS. And to anyone across the UK attracted to a career in nursing, our message is simple: come to Scotland.”

She said the government would use make “fair work first” a consideration in all government contracts and business grants.

In effect, employers would miss out on public money unless they stopped zero-hour contracts, delivered on equal pay, worked with unions, and paid the real living wage.

However there was only a fleeting nod to education, the government’s “top priority”.

A collaboration with the Social Bite charity to give the homeless a permanent roof is also to be expanded from 200 to 800 people under the £6.5m Housing First initiative.

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “Nicola Sturgeon asked her supporters to stay patient - the truth is that most people lost patience with the SNP a long time ago. This was a tired speech from a tired Government which has run out of ideas, apart from the only one they’ve ever had.

“In a speech littered with references to independence, there was just a glancing reference to education. It was a staggering omission and it tells you all you need to know. Education isn’t her number one priority – the only priority the SNP has is separating our country in two.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard added: “Nicola Sturgeon delivered plenty of rhetoric for the party faithful but dodged any detail on the new economic prospectus for separation.

“On education, the supposed top priority barely merited a passing mention.”   

Reacting to the Fair Work First plan, Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Business Scotland, said: “We need to be careful that these well-intentioned policy proposals don’t become a barrier to local firms winning public work, or receiving the right help to get through Brexit-related disruption.”