NICOLA Sturgeon has told senior members of her party the publication of a document early next year setting out the SNP’s new economic thinking will be used to make the case for Scottish independence.

The First Minister told up to 300 members of the SNP’s national council meeting in Perth the party’s Growth Commission report would be unveiled in 2018.

“She said it would be published early in the new year and that it would be a catalyst for relaunching the arguments for independence,” said one senior party member who was present at Saturday’s all day meeting.

“Her comments were warmly received. I can’t recall her exact words, but the thrust of it was was that the publication of the report would provide an opportunity to make the case again for independence. She didn’t mention a date or give a timetable, but my impression was [the document] would be out within the first six weeks of next year.”

The First Minister’s remarks come as expectation has been growing that she will move forward with plans to hold a second independence referendum before 2021.

After June’s snap General Election, in which the SNP lost 21 MPs, the SNP leader said she would “reset” her timetable for a second referendum on independence, after initially calling for a new vote to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.

She told MSPs before the summer recess she would not “immediately” seek to introduce legislation for a referendum but also indicated to journalists that a vote by 2021 was still “likely”.

But with the Brexit situation still remaining unclear, some SNP figures continue to believe the First Minister should wait until after 2021 to move forward with plans for a second vote.

One figure who holds that view last night suggested the First Minister’s comments on Saturday were intended to placate those in the party who want a vote sooner than 2021, rather than signalling the start of any new campaign.

“Nicola has to keep the flame of independence burning. It’s the sort of thing she says when she’s addressing an audience of supporters,” said one. “I still think we should wait until things are clearer and Brexit happens, if it happens at all.”

Two other members of the SNP’s national council who attended Saturday’s meeting played down her remarks, with one pointing out that no mention was made of a referendum and the other suggesting they meant that “efforts to change minds on independence would continue in 2018”.

A SNP spokesman said: “We look forward to the Growth Commission publishing its report. It will make recommendations to bolster Scotland’s economy both in the short-term but also in face of post-Brexit challenges and in the context of the opportunities offered by independence.”

The Growth Commission was set up in September last year as part of a long-awaited summer initiative to speak to undecided voters in an attempt to win over more support for independence in the wake of the EU referendum.

It is chaired by former MSP Andrew Wilson and its membership includes senior figures from business, economics, politics and academia.

A key part of its work is to make recommendations for policy on measures to boost economic growth and improve Scotland’s public finances – both currently and in the context of independence; and also how savings could be made in the event of independence by pursuing different defence policies such as dropping support for Trident.

It is understood the report, which runs to more than 100 pages, is divided into three sections, with one dedicated to fiscal policy, a second to inclusive growth and a third to currency.

In 2014 the Yes side’s currency position – now regarded as a weakness in the case – was that Scotland would carry on using the pound Sterling. This was undermined when the then Chancellor George Osborne said an independent Scotland could not use it.

Announcing the Commission’s membership last year, the First Minister said: “Scotland is a wealthy country with resources and talents that many other countries can only dream about. The challenge, however, lies in closing the gap between our potential and the reality. We want to strengthen our foundations and seek to identify the very best opportunities for Scotland’s economy to flourish.”

Among the commission’s members are Iain Docherty, professor of public policy at Glasgow University; Andrew Hughes Hallet, professor of economics at George Mason University and St Andrews University; and Catherine Schenk, professor of international economic history at Glasgow University.