SNP members have backed the Scottish Government's draft plan for another referendum, supporting the party's plans to hold a vote 'at the earliest opportunity'.

Nicola Sturgeon said her preference would be to have another vote by 2023, but has stressed that she will put the country's recovery from coronavirus before any such poll.

At the SNP conference today, delegates backed the timescale, supporting a motion by 535 votes to 10.

The motion states there should be another vote “as soon as it is safe to hold a proper, detailed, serious national debate on independence” and the date should be decided by "data-driven criteria” about when the public health crisis is over.

Chris Hanlon, the SNP’s policy development convener, insisted the timescale was “not kicking the can down the road”, amid some calls from pro-independence supporters for another referendum as soon as possible.

Alba leader Alex Salmodn said this morning that Scotland was in an independence "groundhog day" under Nicola Sturgeon with no progress being made. 

Mr Hanlon said the recent Holyrood election result, in which the SNP won 64 of the 129 seats, “clearly and unambiguously” gave an endorsement for another referendum.

He added: “We must put data before dates.

“This resolution expects our party’s leadership to consult the relevant subject matter experts to define a set of data-driven criteria.

“Once they are met, the people of Scotland can be confident that it’s safe to hold a referendum, like we did in 2014, that engages the whole population in scrutinising the proposal and has the same energy vigour and passion we saw seven years ago.”

“That’s not kicking the can down the road.

“That’s sticking the ball on the penalty spot and waiting for the whistle to blow. And blow it will, all too soon.”

This morning the First Minister rejected suggestions that she was using coronavirus as an excuse to delay, and said: " This is not just about safety of polling stations, it is about making sure that as the country faces a big, important decision about its future, it’s able to focus on that properly, and that it doesn’t have looming over that a Covid crisis.”

It was suggested to Ms Sturgeon that rather than being concerned about Covid-19, she was waiting until it was politically advantageous.

But she said that any politician would “factor those kind of judgments into those decisions” and added: “I am very confident that when this question is next to put people in Scotland will vote yes."

Following the passing of the motion, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, Angus Robertson, said: “There is a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum, with the SNP receiving the highest share of the vote and the strongest electoral endorsement in the history of devolution in May’s election.

“I am delighted that conference has now backed this motion to pass the Draft Referendum Bill and ensure that Scotland’s future will be put into Scotland’s hands with a referendum for recovery.

“We are already seeing plans for Tory cuts as they slash Universal Credit and plans to hike up National Insurance, taking from those that need it most.

“Scotland cannot afford another decade of Tory austerity – we have already seen the devastating impact cuts can have on the most vulnerable in society as the Tories build their vision of recovery on the backs of the poorest in society.

“That is on top of Brexit and the massive damage it is causing being foisted on us by Boris Johnson. Independence will give us the chance to rejoin a market around seven times larger than the UK, with all the huge opportunities it will bring.

“We cannot trust the Tories to protect the future of Scotland. That is why it so important Scotland has the choice to forge a different, better path with independence.”

The vote followed a poll for the Sunday Times that suggests 53% of voters with a preference would like a referendum in the next five years, although just 17% would want it to happen within the next 12 months.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “The SNP leadership should spend more time listening to the country and less time listening to its supporters.

“It’s insulting that any politician would think planning for a divisive second referendum is a good use of parliamentary and government time and resources.

“The people of Scotland want their governments to bring people together and prioritise the NHS, jobs and the climate emergency – and the Scottish Government should focus on using the wide range of powers it has to build the recovery.”