THE SNP’s president has been forced to warn his party's members not to “hector” and “insult” people who don’t support independence.

Closing the first day of the SNP’s online conference, Michael Russell admitted “the impatience and rhetoric of some in our movement has worried” some voters.

He said a more positive, upbeat campaign was needed to persuade them instead.

The former Brexit Secretary, who stood down as an MSP in May, is also director of the SNP’s Independence Unit, building alliances across the Yes movement.

He said independence must become Scotland’s “new normal”, and that campaign efforts would be stepped up in the autumn and spring to help bring that about.

However, with SNP members keen for action and Alex Salmond's Alba party pushing for a swift vote, he also counselled caution on the timing of a second referendum.

He said the decision on when to introduce a Referendum Bill at Holyrood must lie with Nicola Sturgeon and her government.

He said it had to be at the “optimum moment, so as to ensure that any independence referendum campaign can not only be held safely and in a way that maximises the opportunity for conversion – but also when it is most likely to conclude with the victory which we must have”. 

Stressing the long journey that the independence movement and the SNP had been on, he urged members to persevere and prepare.

He said: “I am pleased to be doing what I can to further the cause, for which I joined this party almost half a century ago. 

“During that time this party has changed out of all recognition.   

“We have moved from the fringes of Scottish politics to centre stage.

“We are in our fifteenth year of delivering as a Government with as strong a determination as ever to serve all our fellow citizens to the best of our ability.

“But we have still not gained independence and until we do, Scotland will not be able to fulfil the potential of all the people who live here, and ensure for them the right to choose how they live their lives.

“That becomes more important with every passing day and I become more impatient for it every passing day too.

“Age does that to people – as those who don’t know will at some stage discover.

"I am keen to get on and get the job done, but like all jobs it needs planning, determination and collaboration.”

READ MORE: Scots have issued clear 'clarion call' demanding Indyref2, says SNP deputy

He went on: "I am sure that no one at conference needs persuaded that independence is what we must have to create the prosperous, fair, outward looking nation that we all want to live in.

"But there are others who are not yet convinced. 

"They have been subject to years of disinformation and scare-mongering.

"And it has to be admitted that, sometimes, the impatience and rhetoric of some in our movement has worried them too.

"To bring them over to our side we need to help not hector, inform not insult.

"So, as the pandemic eases, we need to continue our previous work – building a successful, positive campaign for   independence, which not only retains existing support but also re-assures and attracts those who are not yet with us."

The First Minister has said she wants Indyref2 by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, with independence in 2026 if there is a Yes vote.

Boris Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the power to hold a legally watertight referendum, saying the focus should be on the economic recovery.

Ms Sturgeon has said that if the UK Government keeps blocking Indyref2, MSPs will pass a Referendum Bill regardless, however this could well be challenged and struck down at the UK Supreme Court.

Mr Russell said: “As [Covid] restrictions ease, we must also begin to prepare ourselves again for that most normal, but most essential of steps: seeking the approval of the Scottish people to rejoin the world as an independent nation, making our own decisions about how to build forward to a better future.

“The phrase the ‘new normal’ is used often to describe what we need to create after the pandemic. For Scotland, that new normal has to be the normality of independence.

"It would be normal for our children, grandchildren, and future generations of Scots to live and shape a nation with a government with the normal powers that other governments have.

“In the European Union, almost half the member states are the same size as Scotland or smaller - some much smaller. They are also states that pay better pensions, have higher incomes, work more productively, are happier and healthier and play an effective role in the world - like our neighbour, independent Ireland, which this month chairs the UN Security Council.

“Those benefits of independence are not accidental - they are as a result of being able to make their own decisions and work constructively on the basis of equality with others.

“Their citizens can travel freely across national borders, not queue for hours to get admission even to their own country. The shelves in their supermarkets are not half empty. Their produce is not rotting in the fields because there is no one to pick it and their exports are not delayed or cancelled because of lack of transport or difficulty with paperwork.

“That is why we must now start building forward to Scotland’s new normal – independence.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “There is nothing normal about wanting to impose deeper austerity on our NHS and schools, abolish our currency, or build a border between friends and families.

“You can’t create a greener society by weakening the influence of the UK, and you can’t create a fairer society by putting people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk.

“Mike Russell is a broken record with tired old arguments that don’t reflect the priorities of the people of Scotland.

“Scots want their political leaders to focus on the NHS, Covid recovery, jobs and the climate emergency – and we do that by working together to build a better future for every community in the UK.”