SCOTLAND will “never have better circumstances for winning independence”, Alex Salmond has stated following a week of unprecedented turmoil for the Conservative Government.

Referring to the ongoing Brexit crisis, the former First Minister said “the Westminster political establishment” was at “its weakest ever point in his lifetime”.

He spoke out days after Prime Minister Theresa May suffered an historic defeat in the Commons over her EU withdrawal agreement and Nicola Sturgeon said she would set out her timetable on a new plebiscite “in weeks”.

In an interview with the Sunday National, Salmond said: “Nicola should be concentrating all her energies on the independence agenda when we will never have better circumstances. As far as I am concerned Westminster’s Brexit difficulty should be Scotland’s opportunity.”

He added: “One of our features in the national movement has been our inability to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of our political opponents. We have tended to concentrate on what shape we are in.

“However, right now the Westminster political establishment is at its weakest point in my lifetime while the national movement is in good heart. There is not likely to be a better time to force the issue.”

In terms of Brexit, the First Minister is currently focused on campaigning for a second EU referendum, winning over a section of No voters and and trying to build a wider consensus for independence. She believes a remain vote leading to the whole of the UK staying in the EU would respect the 2016 remain result in Scotland and support the long term economic interests of an independent Scotland, which she believes would be best served if the UK is an EU member.

Her strategy is backed by senior SNP figures including The National’s columnist Andrew Wilson, who headed the party’s growth commission, which set out an economic blueprint for independence and was published last year. Over the weekend Wilson praised an opinion piece by the journalist Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman where she argued the case for building consensus in favour of independence over the long term, rather than a new vote in the short term.

“If Nicola Sturgeon is proceeding with great caution... it is because she has good reason to; and because, as a politician who tends to seek consensus, she knows that Scotland remains almost evenly divided on the matter of independence,” McMillan wrote.

“Sometimes, amid the maelstrom of Brexit politics, it is wise to step back a little and look at the big picture of where we would like Scotland and the other countries of these islands to be in 25 years’ time; and if the final aim is a peaceful confederation of countries living in a mutually respectful economic and trading union, with open borders and close social and cultural links, then we are unlikely to get there by seeking to snatch a second independence referendum out of the jaws of the Brexit crisis, and pushing a divided electorate to a knife-edge decision.”

She added: “This is not to say, of course, that the idea of Scottish independence should be put on the back burner. Given the exceptionally centralised character of the British state, there will, in my view, come a moment when Scotland has to claim its independence, in order to negotiate a more equal relationship with all our island partners. For now, though, the chances of achieving a peaceful and consensual untangling of the Union are close to zero; and if it cannot be done by agreement and consent, then I suspect the vast majority of Scots would rather wait until it can, just as they waited patiently through the Thatcher years for the return of the Scottish Parliament, finally achieved by constitutional means in 1999 without a pane of glass broken, and with the overwhelming support of 75 per cent of the people.”

Wilson tweeted: “What a brilliant piece. The urgency in many hearts and minds is understandable. The tub thumping unthinking populism of too many clever people in leadership positions playing to their own side is patently risible and will set us back. @NicolaSturgeon needs backed not barracked.”

He added: “On all of this: All of us who want our country to progress feel the same. So do not waste time doubting the intent of @NicolaSturgeon. She has been campaigning well for decades. But we need to win by persuading rather than cheering our own fireworks. Back her and trust. Truly.”

SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter also praised McMillan’s article, tweeting: “This is good.”

Others were not convinced. Former SNP MP Michelle Thomson tweeted: “I have some sympathy with the populism comment. But there are many who remain uncertain about strategy. Watch and wait for 15 years (a la Thatcher reign) isn’t a great sell ...”

Pro-independence blogger James Kelly wrote: “I’ve been thinking some more about Joyce McMillan’s claim that independence has to wait until ‘consensus’ and ‘harmony’ have been established, in much the same way that devolution had to wait two decades after 1979. It’s worth remembering that SNP, Labour and Liberal/SDP politicians of the 1980s did not recognise any need to wait – they were all trying to establish a Scottish Parliament as soon as possible. It would be interesting to know whether Joyce McMillan and Mhairi Hunter, if they could time-travel and go back to the 1983 or 1987 election campaigns, would advise opposition politicians to “cool your jets, let Thatcher do her worst, don’t try to take any action for another 15 years”.

The Scottish Greens have urged the FM to stick to her timetable of a second independence vote before 2021 whatever happens with Brexit.

Under the Scotland Act a section 30 order is required to be given by the UK Government for the Scottish Government to hold an independence referendum. Reports yesterday suggested May was again preparing to reject any new request.