A NEW independence referendum must be held before the end of next year, Patrick Harvie has insisted.

The Scottish Greens’ co-convener said the plebiscite on the nation’s future should take place before December 31, 2020.

He argued winning independence within this timeframe would ease an independent Scotland’s route into becoming a full EU member, as under current plans the UK would continue to be aligned to EU rules until then.

READ MORE: Indy group Voices for Scotland given welcome by First Minister

“If Brexit goes ahead at the moment the plan is for a transition period until the end of 2020,” he told The National.

“I think, if we are going to go through that process, if Brexit goes ahead it is really important that Scotland gets a chance to answer the question before that transition period is over so we can have as smooth a path as possible to full EU independent member status.”

He spoke out as the First Minister suggested the vote could be next year.

The National:

Asked by STV when she thought it would take place, she said yesterday: “I would have thought sometime next year, probably in the latter half of next year.”

Harvie’s intervention comes on the day the SNP begin their Spring Conference in Edinburgh where the independence debate will be the main focus. On Wednesday the First Minister set out plans in Holyrood for a second independence referendum during the current parliamentary term, which ends in May 2021, if the UK leaves the EU.

She will introduce a framework bill to establish the rules for the vote, and will later request from the Prime Minister the temporary transfer of powers to hold it.

READ MORE: For a just Scotland in the heart of Europe, vote Green at the EU election

Speaking as he visited Star Factory, a green energy facility in Glasgow, Harvie welcomed the FM’s plans.

Asked what he thought she could do if May refused a request for a Section 30 order to transfer the powers to hold the vote – as it is expected the PM will, Harvie said: “It’s a good suggestion that we press ahead with the legislation now and seek a Section 30 order when it’s needed. We don’t need that to get started.

“We’ll certainly have a different Prime Minister before too long who may have a different position on this issue, so we should press ahead and put pressure on the Prime Minister to change her position.”

It is unclear when or if the UK will leave the EU. May has failed to get her divorce agreement through the Commons, forcing her to delay Brexit, possibly until October 31.

Under May’s deal there would be a post-Brexit transition period with the EU until the end of 2020.

It would mean the UK would abide by EU rules, including freedom of movement.