ONE of the SNP’s most prominent MPs has signalled a delay in the independence agenda, saying it is “very difficult” to move forward because of Brexit.

Tommy Sheppard said it was unclear what independence would be “an alternative to” because of uncertainty over the state of the United Kingdom.

The Edinburgh East MP also said that if there was a People’s Vote on Brexit, it would take precedence over the independence question.

The comments are at odds with those of several past and present SNP MPs who say the chaos over Brexit is a reason to call a second referendum soon, not halt one.

Mr Sheppard said: “One of the problems for those of us who advocate independence or a different constitutional future for Scotland is that we don’t quite know what it’s an alternative to at the minute.

“So until it’s clear what the United Kingdom is, and the direction it’s going to go in, and crucially whether it’s part of the European mainstream or not, then it is very difficult to actually move forward on the question of independence.

“That has been the case for the last couple of years, and it’s still the case today.”

Given the core SNP belief that independence is always a better alternative to staying in the UK, Mr Sheppard was challenged over his remarks at a press conference in Edinburgh.

Clarifying his position, he said a new prospectus on independence would need to wait until the SNP knew “what the United Kingdom is and where it’s going so that we can describe the other options”.

READ MORE: Key Sturgeon adviser urges 'softest possible form of Scottish independence'

Mr Sheppard’s comments are the latest in a series from senior SNP figures downplaying the prospect of a second independence referendum in the short-term.

Nicola Sturgeon has promised a long-delayed statement on the timing of a new vote within weeks, but it appears increasingly unlikely that she will commit herself to a firm date.

In an America TV interview last week, the First Minister said it was too soon for voters to come to an “informed decision” and “calm consideration” was required instead.

One of her closest advisers, SNP Growth Commission chair Andrew Wilson, then called for a gradual build-up to “the softest possible” form of independence in order to woo voters.

Mr Wilson also mocked Yes campaigners seeking a dramatic change from independence as wanting to “move immediately and overnight to a Marxist revolutionary state”.

Joanna Cherry QC, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, hit back: “You don’t have to be a ‘Marxist revolutionary’ to disagree with this softly softly strategy. “Brexit is a catastrophe about to hit Scotland and the only way to protect our society and economy is independence.”

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry joins attack on 'softest possible' independence plan

However at press conference for the People’s Vote campaign, Mr Sheppard described Brexit as a reason for a pause rather than action, and said a People’s Vote would come first.

He said: “We are anxious to get the question of Brexit settled, which is why we support the idea of a People’s Vote.

“I think if this question is put back to the people, it’s my firm belief that they will draw back from the decision that they took in 2016 and vote to Remain as part of the European Union, and then we can move forward to discuss the question of Scottish independence.

Independence isn’t going to be on the ballot paper for a People’s Vote, but clearly everything that happens in this is going to condition what comes after it.”

Asked why he waiting for an alternative to independence to emerge given the SNP view that staying in the UK is always worse than leaving it, he said party policy remained the same.

“Our view is that the people who live in Scotland ought to be the ones who decide what happens here, and they and they alone ought to be the people who decide on the governance of Scotland.”

“All I’m saying is that, before we put that question to the people, before we draw a new prospectus on which a possible independence vote might be based on in the future, we need to be able to know what the United Kingdom is and where it’s going so that we can describe the other options.”

READ MORE: SNP MP Angus MacNeil calls for party to change strategy and for Indyref2 to ‘come to fore’

Mr Sheppard, the SNP's spokesman on the Lords, was elected in 2015. 

With Theresa May refusing to grant Holyrood the powers to hold a second referendum, Ms Sturgeon is expected to make a new vote central to the 2021 Holyrood election.