SNP depute leader hopeful Keith Brown has told The National his party isn’t yet ready to fight and win a campaign on independence.

His comments came as the SNP’s very public stooshie over the timing of indyref2 rumbled on, with one of his rivals in the contest for the job, Chris McEleny, urging Nicola Sturgeon to hold the vote in the next 18 months.

The councillor from Inverclyde said Scotland simply could not “afford to wait any longer” to see if “things can get better”.

The First Minister 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 much discussion lately between MPs, party members and high-profile supporters over the timing of the referendum.

Yesterday, Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, said putting a timescale on the referendum was the wrong priority and that being ready to win it would be more sensible.

“We’ve got to be ready before the next referendum is called,” he said.

“The party and its organisation has to be ready to campaign in that referendum and that’s the task we face now – getting ready.

“That’s why readiness is at the heart of my campaign – readiness for elections and referendums, readiness for campaigning. We need training for activists and we need to refresh our ogranisational structure, we need party HQ on a permanent campaigning footing.

“Whenever we go into any campaign what will matter will be our readiness – if we’re not ready we won’t win and I want to win. That’s my message to SNP members – let’s get ready.”

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.”

He added: “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.

On Tuesday, the SNP’s Angus MacNeil became the first SNP MP to publicly back a vote on Scottish independence soon.

He told The National: “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.”

Last week Pete Wishart said the vote should only be held when there were “optimum conditions for success”.

He wrote: “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.”