NICOLA Sturgeon has moved to shut down internal dissent over her safety-first independence strategy by accusing her critics of falling into a Unionist trap.

On the opening day of the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen, the First Minister used a series of newspaper articles to try to head off a grassroots revolt over the slow pace of Indyref2.

She said those calling for a Plan B, who include MP Angus Brendan MacNeiil and National Executive member Chris McEleny, were inadvertently helping the Unionist enemy.

She said sher understood the “frustrations” felt by some in the SNP over the pace of progress, but said “democracy must prevail”.

The stinging remarks, effectively classing one of her longest serving MPs as one of the Union’s useful idiots, risk escalating the simmering internal feud over independence.

It came as a new poll put support for Yes at 50 per cent.

READ MORE: Support for Scottish independence rises to 50%, according to new poll

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants another independence referendum in the second half of 2020, but has failed to say what she will do if the UK Government blocks it.

Holyrood cannot hold a legal vote on the constitution unilaterally and requires a temporary transfer of power under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act. 

In the face of the Tory government’s continued refusal to grant a Section 30 order, senior SNP members have suggested a Plan B based on an election instead.

Mr MacNeil and Mr McEleny argue that if the SNP won a majority of seats at the next general or Holyrood election, it should be enough to start negotiations on independence.

Last week, Ms Sturgeon ruled that out, saying other countries would never accept the idea of a mandate potentially based on a minority vote share in an election.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Nicola Sturgeon will not support any Plan B for an unlawful independence referendum. Deal with it

However a new poll for the pro-independence Wings over Scotland website found four out of five Yes supporters wanted some form of Plan B.

The most popular alternative, with 45% support, was legislating for a referendum without UK consent then daring the UK Government to challenge it in court. More than a third, 36%, backed the MacNeil-McEleny plan.

Only 6% backed the current policy of waiting for a Section 30 to be granted

Faced with a growing backlash, the SNP leader warned those advocating a Plan B were acting against the best interests of the Yes movement and helping the Unionist cause, by suggesting the SNP is ready to abandon the gold standard set by the 2014 referendum.

Writing in the National, she says:  “A key part of political leadership is knowing when not to make a miscalculation that those in opposing parties would like you to make.

“That is why I will not fall into the trap that our Unionist opponents want me to, by deviating from our current path of ensuring the next independence referendum is legal and constitutional.

“We don’t need to be talking about Plan B when we have a perfectly good Plan A - especially when any Plan B is exactly the route many opponents of independence would like us to go down.

“To be clear, if we were to try to hold a referendum that wasn’t recognised as legal and legitimate - or to claim a mandate for independence without having demonstrated majority support for it - it would not carry the legal, political and diplomatic weight that is needed.

“It simply wouldn’t be accepted by the international community, including our EU friends and partners.

“Our opponents want to push us to talk about Plan B, because they know Plan A is the right one to deliver independence.

“And the only reason they are so desperate to block a referendum is because they know they are likely to lose it.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “I understand the frustrations felt by some within the SNP and the wider independence movement - I am impatient myself for independence because the  need has never been so great and the case has never been more compelling.

“Ultimately, democracy must preveal and mandates delivered by the people in elections must be respected.

“Scotland doesn’t want to be taken out of the EU - the country has rejected Brexit and  Brexit parties at every opportunity.

“There is no mandate for it - but there is a mandate for a referendum on independence.

“And I’m determined to give the people of Scotland that choice.”

Mr MacNeil and Mr McEleny were freported to be planning an intervention at the conference today in a last-ditch bid to have their Plan B debated by delegates.

After several rejections by the party hierarchy, they were considering a technical move to oppose the conference agenda unless their idea was discussed on the conference floor.