NICOLA Sturgeon is sticking to plans to unveil a timescale for a new independence referendum within “weeks”.

The First Minister has previously said she intends to set out her proposals at the end of the current withdrawal stage of the Brexit negotiations.

Pressed last week by the Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie to state if she would keep to this timeframe in the event that Article 50 is extended beyond March 29 when the UK is due to leave, she said she would.

However, this week fresh questions have been raised whether her announcement could be postponed following the criminal charges facing Alex Salmond.

The National:

READ MORE: Alex Salmond faces 14 charges including two of attempted rape

The former First Minister faced 14 charges including two attempted rapes and nine counts of sexual assault when he appeared on petition at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Thursday. He strongly denies any criminality and is due to make a second court appearance.

Following the development, speculation yesterday emerged that the First Minister would hold off any decision on a new plebiscite.

In an editorial, the Guardian said: “It is unlikely that, after these charges, Ms Sturgeon is now going to call a second referendum any time soon.”

But pressed yesterday on whether the First Minister would delay an announcement, her spokesman referred The National to her previous remarks.

“There’s nothing to add for the time being to what the FM has already said on the issue of an independence referendum,” he said.

READ MORE: Mike Russell: Scotland is united in fear of Brexit catastrophe

SNP Councillor Mhairi Hunter, a close ally of Sturgeon in her Glasgow constituency, also said the case against the former First Minister “changes nothing politically”.

Responding to the charges against him, she posted on Twitter: “We honestly cannot go for months with people writing articles about what the Alex Salmond situation means for the Yes movement ... it changes nothing politically.”

Ahead of the First Minister’s Brexit talks with Theresa May on Wednesday she said she would tell her that independence is an option for Scotland to pursue.

In a BBC Scotland interview, she said: “Of course I’ll also remind her that Scotland didn’t vote to leave the EU, we voted to remain.

“And if her government and the Westminster establishment is going to continue to ignore Scotland’s voice and Scotland’s interests then we have the right to consider other options for our future, including independence.”

Debate is continuing within the SNP and Yes movement about when a referendum should be held. The First Minister has pledged she will make her views known on the possible timing of a second independence referendum in a “matter of weeks”, while last weekend Salmond told The Sunday National there is “not likely to be a better time to force the issue” in the wake of May’s historic defeat in the Commons on her Brexit defeat.

That view was reiterated by SNP Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who said it was time for calls for a fresh independence vote “to come to fore”, urging Sturgeon to prioritise this over demands for a second referendum on Brexit.

But others are more cautious – including Andrew Wilson who headed the party’s Growth Commission.

The National:

And SNP MEP Alyn Smith said this week: “Within the SNP and the Yes movement, yes there are a number of folks who think we should just go for independence now. I am not of that view. There are practical questions about what the independence proposition is going to be, vis-a-vis the EU and vis-a-vis the rest of the UK, and until we see what the end point of the UK is likely to be relative to the EU, then there are practical questions we’re not ready with yet.”

READ MORE: Alyn Smith: We must make clear New Scots are welcome here

He added: “I don’t think we’re ready to press the button ... yet, because there are too many moving parts to Brexit.”