SNP depute leader hopeful Chris McEleny has added his voice to calls for Nicola Sturgeon to hold a referendum on independence in the next 18 months, saying Scotland simply “cannot afford to wait any longer” to see if "things can get better".

Nicola Sturgeon temporarily shelved plans to hold a second referendum last June, after the election saw the SNP lose 21 MPs.

She's due to update Holryood on her thinking about the vote in the autumn.

But with little certainty over what the First Minister will say, there has been a slew of very public disagreements between MPs, party members and high-profile supporters over the timing of indyref2.

McEleny, who is running against finance minister Keith Brown and party activist Julie Hepburn, is the first of the three depute leadership candidates to explicitly call for a vote sooner rather than later.

The councillor's call is likely to be popular with the SNP members who vote in the contest.

McEleny said he thought Brexit and the prospect of continued Tory austerity policies would lead to a surge in support for independence.

He said: “In Autumn we will know clearly what the terms of Brexit will be. Considering the shambles that negotiations have been conducted in to date, I’m not holding my breath for a good deal.

“However Brexit isn’t the only democratic deficit that we have in Scotland.

“We are moving close to entering into our second decade of UK Government austerity being imposed upon Scotland.

“We are moving close to a new generation of weapons of mass destruction being imposed upon the Clyde in Scotland.

“Hard working WASPI women are having their pensions stolen, women who have been raped are being forced to fill out forms to receive support, the UK’s 'protect-the-rich' economy is forcing more and more children into poverty.

“Therefore I believe that Scotland cannot afford to wait any longer to see if things can get better, we’ve been getting sold that message for decades.

“Simply put, decisions made in Scotland by the people of Scotland are better decisions for Scotland. That is why we should be independent and that is why I believe we should have a referendum on our independence within the next 18 months.”

MSPs gave the Scottish Government a mandate in March last year to formally request from the UK Government the powers to stage a vote.

But three months later, after the snap General Election saw a rise in support of anti-independence candidates, Sturgeon said she needed to “reset” her plans.

“We will put our shoulder to the wheel of seeking to get the best deal for Scotland and then we will make a judgement on the right time for a choice,” she told MSPs in Holyrood.

Indyref2 has so far dominated the race to replace Angus Robertson as depute leader.

Yesterday, the SNP’s Angus MacNeil became the first SNP MP to publicly back a vote on Scottish independence sooner rather than later.

The MP’s comments were 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.

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.

He said: “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."

Last week in a blog, MP Pete 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.”