A SURPRISE new candidate for the role of SNP depute leader has come forward with a pitch to bring about internal organisational change to get the party ready for a new independence referendum.

Julie Hepburn is the second contender to declare and is the first woman to enter either this year’s contest or the one held in 2016. She is also the first candidate in either of those elections not to have an elected role as MSP, MP, MEP or councillor.

The 38-year-old is well known among senior figures in the SNP having been employed previously as a case worker for Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Perth MP Pete Wishart.

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On the question of independence and a future referendum Hepburn said it was time for the party to “get in training” for a possible new vote, but that the timing was ultimately up to the First Minister and her Cabinet.

“It’s important to note that whoever becomes depute leader will not be deciding unilaterally what the strategy is and when the decision will be,” she said.

“Ultimately it is a decision for the First Minister and the Scottish Government. They will draw on a huge range of opinion, including the party membership, the NEC and different folk around the country.

“Whoever is depute leader is not going to change that. I think the most important thing we can do now is listen until at such a point there is a clear opportunity for a new vote and there is demonstration that in the wider population there is demand for one.”

She added: “There is no point in holding a referendum until there is an opportunity to win. We don’t need to be playing the match right now. The match is not on. We need to be doing the preparation and training. We should not be pushing our views, but listening to No voters, or as I like to say, those people who are yet to be persuaded.”

Hepburn joined the SNP in 2000 and is currently the research manager for MP Stuart McDonald. Her career has included two spells as the party’s political education convener between 2009 and 2012 and from 2015 to 2017. She is also a former member of the party’s national executive committee.

She said: “The depute post has previously been held by parliamentarians. So people have seen it in that way. But in fact there is no reason why it should be.

“It is an internal office bearer role to co-ordinate policy development and that’s what I want to do. We have a lot of very high profile, capable people who can stand in for the First Minister in terms of being the public face of the party, going on television and pushing our arguments. What I want to do is push through the internal reforms which are under way. We’ve got an ongoing constitutional review [of party structure]. There was a need for reform before 2014 but obviously after our massive membership surge it became more pressing.

“But after the series of elections this is really the first opportunity the party has had to step back and see what reforms we need.”

Hepburn was born in Galashiels. She is married to Jamie Hepburn, the Scottish Government minister for employability and training, and has two children.