NICOLA Sturgeon should call a vote on Scottish independence in the next 18 months, according to the SNP’s Angus MacNeil.

The MP’s comments are in stark contrast to those of his Westminster colleague Pete Wishart, who called for the next vote to be held at a more “pragmatic” time.

But MacNeil, who represents the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency, told The National that his party comrades needed to be more willing to take the risk.

The veteran MP was speaking after more than 5,000 people took part in his Twitter poll on the timing of a second referendum.

Though not scientific, the results were overwhelmingly in favour of a vote in the next 18 months. Two thirds backed the call to have the referendum before the end of 2019, while another 22 per cent wanted it before 2021, and 12 per cent called for the vote after 2021.

MacNeil, pictured, admitted he was one of those who voted to have the referendum in the next 18 months.

Chris McEleny, the SNP councillor running to be the party’s depute leader, also expressed his support for a vote sooner rather than later.

There are splits emerging in the party over the question of timing of a second referendum. Last week in a blog, Wishart said the vote should only be held when there were “optimum conditions for success.”

He wrote: “Holding a second referendum only to lose it because the Scottish people weren’t ready would be the worst possible national tragedy. Holding a referendum and losing when we could have won if we were just a bit more pragmatic about the timing would be even worse than that.”

MacNeil didn’t mention Wishart by name, but took a contrary view to his Perthshire colleague.

MacNeil told The National: “Some people think the referendum should be put off for a long time, I’m instinctively against that, but that’s only an opinion.

“Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

“If you’re afraid of never having it in case you lose it you’re in the same camp as never having it.

“The first referendum would never have been held on that basis."

MacNeil said a date would make a difference to support and enthusiasm.

“If there’s no date, there’s no focus, and no energy, and no effort,” he said. “The next date again will focus energy and effort. And this time we’re not 25 per cent behind in the poll, we’re four or five per cent.

“We can easy pick 10, 15 per cent in the campaign.”

"If we show leadership, people will follow,” he added

MacNeil said he supported Nicola Sturgeon’s decision after last year’s general election result to push back the decision on a second referendum until autumn, but said the party needed to be “ready from the off”.

The MP added: “Brexit present us with a brilliant opportunity. Not just a brilliant opportunity, it’s a necessary opportunity, it’s a necessity for the lifeboat.”