The debate on independence “stops” if the SNP loses the coming general election in Scotland, one of the party’s senior MPs has said.

Tommy Sheppard said the vote, expected in the second half of the year, would be “about whether the journey continues” towards “national autonomy”. 

Humza Yousaf has said independence will be “page one, line one” of the SNP manifesto and that the SNP needs to win more than half the 57 Scottish seats to win the election.

The SNP leader has said that would be a mandate to give “democratic effect” to independence, potentially through a second referendum.

However, although 29 MPs would be the SNP’s lowest tally since 2010, recent polls suggest the party may well struggle to reach even that amid a Labour resurgence.

Many SNP supporters have said their priority is to remove the Tories from power rather than support the Nationalists.

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Appearing to contradict Mr Yousaf’s “page one, line one” mantra, Mr Sheppard said that Scotland would “at some stage” vote for independence “but that is not where we are now and that is not what we are voting for in this year’s General Election”.

Writing in the Herald’s sister paper, the Sunday National, he went on: “We need to be very clear with the electorate – this year’s vote is about whether the journey continues, whether we can create circumstances to move towards our independence. 

“And with a corrupt first-past-the-post system, the only way to do that is to vote SNP.

“If the SNP lose the election in Scotland, the debate on independence stops. That is why we must put aside our differences and unite.”

The reference to unity could apply to both the SNP’s internal splits and divisions between the SNP and Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba party.

Mr Sheppard, his party’s Scotland spokesperson, said Labour was so far ahead of the Tories that a win for Keir Starmer was inevitable.

“Even with their track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Labour cannot lose,” the Edinburgh East MP wrote.

“Given that the prospect of the Conservatives winning this year is practically inconceivable, two things follow. 

“Firstly, what is the best way to influence an alternative UK Government into being something better than a low-calorie version of what it replaces? 

“Secondly, how can we make sure this country’s journey to having autonomy over its own affairs and resources does not stop after two decades of remarkable progress?”

He said the SNP were “more anti-Tory” than Labour, and also wanted many of the social and economic policies Labour “used to believe in and have now abandoned”.

He went on: “So anyone wanting real change at a UK level would do better to send representatives to Westminster who will force Labour to be different, rather than give Starmer a blank cheque.

“There is a bigger question for Scottish voters. Will they simply be ignored by a Starmer government? If the SNP lose this election, the answer is yes.”

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Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Donald Cameron said the debate on independence should have stopped after the No result in the 2014 referendum.

He said: “Tommy Sheppard is just trying desperately to find some excuse for people to back the SNP, a party which has been a disaster in government and, as usual, is focusing on separatism, rather than people’s real priorities.

“The Scottish Conservatives have provided the only robust opposition to the SNP’s divisive agenda and, in many seats, are the only way to get them out of office.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union,  added: “Tommy Sheppard is right.

"The SNP should listen when it is rejected at the ballot box. But we all know that the SNP will never end its divisive and negative attempts to separate us. 

“Trying to make the forthcoming election campaign all about the constitution shows that the SNP has nothing else to offer the people of Scotland.

“This election should be about the issues that really matter to voters such as the cost-of-living crisis, jobs, and the climate emergency.”