The SNP's depute leader has said the party is closer then ever to achieving the “dream” of an independent Scotland.

Keith Brown made the claim as he addressed an SNP campaign conference ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament election on May 6th

But he insisted: “Never before in our history have so many Scots shared our belief that independence is the right path for our country.”

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Speaking at an SNP campaign conference held in the run-up to election day he added: “We are closer than ever to realising our dream on an independent Scotland.”

He used his speech to contrast the “optimism” and “experienced leadership” of the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon with the Westminster Government, led by the “deeply untrustworthy Boris Johnson”.

And he insisted that independence was needed to protect Scotland’s NHS and prevent a return to “brutalising” austerity.

Mr Brown said the vote on May 6 would “ask the people of Scotland one simple question – should Scotland’s recovery be in Scotland’s hands, or that of Westminster Tories like the deeply untrustworthy Boris Johnson?

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“Now is the time for experienced leadership in government as we continue with the most important dual task – keeping Scotland safe and rebuilding towards a fairer future for all.”

He argued: “To achieve a better future, we believe Scotland’s recovery should be in Scotland’s hands, not Boris Johnson’s.

“That means that the people of Scotland have the right to decide their future in an independence referendum when the Covid crisis is over.”

“Independence is the only way to protect our most cherished of institutions, the NHS,” he added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ‘deeply untrustworthy’, Keith Brown claimed (Hannah McKay/PA)

“The year just past has clearly demonstrated how much we rely on it, and that means we must also protect it from the Westminster Tories who would flog it off, bit by bit, in their desperation for a trade deal with America.

“Independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s economy from the Westminster Tories’ jobs-destroying hard Brexit.

“Independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable people from another decade of unjust and brutalising Tory austerity.”

Mr Brown attacked the Tories in Holyrood too, after Scottish Conservatives brought a vote of no confidence in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – a vote that was announced before a Holyrood committee had published its report into the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment claims made against her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

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Mr Brown hit out at “opposition parties devoting their energies to witch hunts, stitch-ups and the lowest party politics the likes of which we believed were reserved for Trump’s America”.

“Their desperate attacks on both the First Minister and the institutions of our hard-won democracy have been unedifying and shameless,” he said.

Speaking about the Tories, he added: “They’re not interested in governing and they are certainly not up to the job of leading, they have nothing positive to say.”

But he claimed their tactics had “backfired” and that the SNP had gained an “astonishing” 15,000 new members over the last month.

Mr Brown welcomed this “tide of new members flooding to join the party as people showed their support for the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon”.