THE SNP’s depute leader has said a second independence referendum should happen at the “earliest possible opportunity”.

Keith Brown said the country should vote again on whether to leave the Union as soon as it was safe to do so in light of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Brown also suggested a referendum could happen even if Boris Johnson tried to block it, and the UK Supreme Court struck down unilateral Holyrood legislation for Indyref2.

Nicola Sturgeon said this morning that legislation could be introduced in Holyrood as soon as next spring, given the improving Covid and economic picture.

The First Minister has said she wants Indyref2 by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, with independence in 2026.

After the SNP won a landslide victory in the Holyrood election, coming just one seat short of a majority, she said there was no democratic reason for the UK Government refusing to grant Holyrood the power it needed to hold a legal referendum.

She also repeated her warning that if the request for a so-called Section 30 order was denied, Holyrood would pass its own referendum Bill and dare the UK Government to challenge it at the UK Supreme Court, where it could be struck down.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove today said the UK Government would not end up in a court fight with the Scottish Government on the issue, a potential PR disaster for the Union.

However it was unclear what the UK Government would do if asked for a Section 30 order, and Mr Gove also noted most voters had backed Unionist parties in the election. 

Speaking this morning on Sky’s Sophie Ridge programme, Mr Brown said the pandemic was the only caveat to the SNP’s plan for Indyref2.

He said: “That’s our intention, to have that referendum.

“I’ve said as soon as possible. We are making fantastic progress with the pandemic and the fight against coronavirus, as you can see in the figures now.

“But that threat is still there. Of course, there’s also the threat of new variants of the virus.

“So nobody can put time limits on that. No politician is doing that just now and it’s unreasonable, I think, to ask them to do that.

“But at the earliest possible opportunity, when it’s safe to do so, we’ll move to have the referendum, the one that Scotland has just voted for in massive numbers.”

Asked what the Scottish Government would do if Boris Johnson refused to grant Holyrood the power to hold Indyref2, Mr Brown said the Prime Minister had a history of U-turns and he believed he would drop his opposition.

He said: “Boris John will change, take account of the political circumstances in Scotland, and we will proceed with the referendum. The referendum will happen. It’s going to happen.

“I think the Conservatives understand that is the case. The only issue is when the time is right and the time wil be right when it’s safe to have that referendum.”

Pressed on whether the Scottish Government would hold a referendum even if Mr Johnson refused to grant one, and the UK Supreme Court struck down a Holyrood Bill for one, Mr Brown said: “You’re asking me to jump past wheat I don’t believe, and I don’t believe that Boris Johnson will veto this.

"I don’t think that is going to happen.”

“But in the event that there’s any denial of Scottish democracy, in the even that Boris Johnson tries to do a Trump and tries to use the legal process to subvert Scottish democracy, I believe the referendum will still happen.”