NICOLA Sturgeon should set Boris Johnson a deadline for granting a second independence referendum within weeks, a senior member of the SNP has said.

Chris McEleny said the First Minister should give Mr Johnson until March 31 to transfer the power needed to hold Indyref2, through a so-called Section 30 order, to Holyrood.

If the Prime Minister refused, the ensuing Scottish Parliament election would be used to seek “popular legitimacy” for holding a referendum regardless.

If a pro-independence parties then won a majority of seats - as polls predict they will - Holyrood should then legislate for a referendum without the UK’s consent.

The call comes ahead of SNP members discussing Indyref2 later this month.

Mr McEleny, the leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council and a past candidate for SNP depute leader, sets out the timetable in a new “Roadmap to Scottish Independence”.

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Published today, the plan adds detail to the “Plan B” on independence which Mr McEleny has long advocated alongside SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.

The pair have repeatedly urged the SNP leadership to consider alternatives to a Section 30 order, which Mr Johnson has suggested should be withheld for a generation.

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted a referendum based on a Section 30 order - which make the 2014 vote immune to legal challenge - remains the “gold standard” for Indyref2.

The First Minister has also warned a wildcat referendum or push for independence without a vote would not be internationally recognised, and so a self-defeating exercise.

However many in Ms Sturgeon’s party are impatient at the lack of tangible progress towards holding Indyref2.

Ms Sturgeon first formally requested a Section 30 order from Theresa May in March 2017, and again from Mr Johnson in December 2019.

She was rejected both times, despite her party having recently won large numbers of MSPs or MPs in the preceding Holyrood and Westminster elections respectively.

Since then, polls throughout 2020 have shown consistent support for independence among decided voters.

On January 24, the SNP will hold a virtual National Assembly to discuss tactics and strategy on the route to independence.

HeraldScotland: Chris McElenyChris McEleny

Mr McEleny said his roadmap had been submitted to SNP depute Keith Brown, who is convening the Assembly, and to members of the SNP’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, in the hope it will be discussed by party members.

The Holyrood election is supposed to take plaace on May 6, but a new contingency law means it could be delayed by the Presiding Officer by up to six months because of Covid. 

Mr McEleny said: “As the paper sets out, we have had a strategy for many years of asking the UK Government to ‘allow’ the people of Scotland to have a choice on their own future, yet despite election win after election win, the UK Government refuses to accept the Scottish Government’s mandate to hold a referendum. It is clear we need a Plan B.

“It is now time to seize the initiative, and if the UK Government refuse to agree to granting a section 30 order before the Scottish Parliament elections in May, then the people of Scotland will be the judge of whether or not theParliament has the authority to hold a referendum.

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“If a pro independence majority is then elected in those circumstances, the Scottish Government must hold a referendum - whether Boris Johnson agrees to it or not. 

“This is a paper that I believe can unite the entire independence movement behind this position, and ultimately the people of Scotland to seize the opportunity to determine what they think is the best path for Scotland to progress as a nation.”

Scottish Tory MSP Dean Lockhart, his party's constitution spokesman at Holyrood, said: “This latest intervention from a senior SNP figure comes hot on the heels of John Swinney saying another independence referendum is an essential priority for the people of Scotland.

"The SNP have got their priorities all wrong and are obsessed with pushing ahead with their separatist agenda, even during a global pandemic.

“The people of Scotland need everyone in the SNP to be fully focused on ensuring the vaccine rollout is successful and getting hundreds of millions out the door that they have from the UK Government to protect as many jobs and livelihoods as possible.

“That’s what SNP representatives at all levels should be prioritising, not making calls for another reckless referendum.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, added: “Just imagine if nationalist politicians worked as hard on new ideas about bringing people together instead of new ways to divide us.

“It’s vital to remember that people vote for parties on a wide range of issues, and Scots want politicians to prioritise rebuilding the economy and the NHS following the coronavirus crisis.

“A vote for the SNP is not a green light to try to leave the UK by the back door – that would be a democratic outrage.

“By working with our largest trading market and closest friends and neighbours to build a successful future in the UK, we are stronger together.”

The SNP has been asked for comment.