THE SNP are set to ramp up their “referendum readiness” over the autumn, as indyref2 draws nearer, the party’s depute leader has revealed.

Speaking at the end of what he described as a “hugely significant week” Keith Brown said a poll showing majority support for independence confirmed the nation was “on a journey”.

“The exact date of the referendum may not yet be fixed, but we know it is coming, and we are already working to win,” he told The National.

His remarks came after former cabinet colleague, Kenny MacAskill suggested the First Minister was “wholly unprepared” for an early referendum.

Writing in The Scotsman on Thursday, the former justice secretary accused Nicola Sturgeon of lacking a strategy and a campaign on independence.

He also said the lead for Yes – the poll put support for indy at 52% with don’t-knows excluded – should be much higher, given the rise of Boris Johnson and his Cabinet of Brexiteers.

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MacAskill wrote: “I’d be more concerned, if I were them, with the closeness of the poll rather than its coverage. Given the pound crashing, investment drying up and catastrophe threatening, it must be a worry about just what it might take to shift some people.”

He added: “It confirms what many, including myself, have long believed, which is that the worse it gets for Britain, then the worse it gets for the independence cause.

“Support for the latter comes through hope and optimism, it’s not driven by fear and despair.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s lack of a strategy, never mind a campaign, will see her face increased demands for an early referendum from within. It’s something which she can’t deliver and she’s wholly unprepared for anyway, despite her rhetoric.”

Last Monday’s poll, commissioned by former Tory Chairman, Lord Ashcroft, and published in Holyrood magazine, put support for Yes at 46% against 43% for remaining in the Union. When the don’t knows were removed, support for independence rose to 52%.

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In a blow to Unionist politicians who have long claimed there is no appetite for a second vote, 47% of voters told pollsters they want indyref2 in the next two years, with 45% of voters against.

Sturgeon has said she would like a referendum next year – though, to put that vote beyond legal doubt, she told MSPs she’ll need a Section 30 order from Whitehall devolving relevant powers to Holyrood.

Johnson’s Secretary of State for Scotland has said he will recommend the Prime Minister reject any request for an order.

Speaking to The National, Brown, said: “This has been a hugely significant week for the SNP and the whole Yes movement.

“The phenomenal Ashcroft poll has been coming for a while. Not only did it show a majority in favour of independence, it revealed a majority in favour of a referendum within the next two years.

“Importantly though, it confirms the nation is on a journey. So, we have a mandate, the Referendum Bill is in progress, momentum is building daily, and the Unionist parties are ripping themselves apart.

“The people of Scotland are telling us they want change, and they should be the people to make that decision. What an amazing platform from which to build support.”

“Preparations are well under way to ramp up our referendum readiness over the autumn – General Election or not. Some 270,000 people have pledged their support to our campaign. The exact date of the referendum may not yet be fixed, but we know it is coming, and we are already working to win.”