A SECOND referendum should be held sufficiently early in the next Holyrood term to allow ministers to create a new independent Scotland after a Yes result, according to a leading SNP MP.

Tommy Sheppard, the party’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, backed Alex Neil’s forecast the Scottish Government will hold a referendum in the initial stage of the next parliamentary term if the SNP achieve a landslide victory in the May 2021 elections.

He did not suggest a specific timescale, but said it should be done at a time to allow a Yes win in the ballot to be implemented. This would mean that given a five-year Holyrood term, Scotland could be independent by 2026.

“We need to have another referendum. There is an appetite for it and the way to get another referendum is to get a majority in the Scottish Parliament to support that. The simplest way to do that is to vote SNP next May,” said Sheppard.

“On the timetable, if we win a majority in the Scottish Parliament, then we have one term of office to get this done. That means we have to schedule a referendum and then allow enough time after the referendum for the result to be implemented.”

He added: “So we would need to have the referendum early enough in the session to allow adequate time for the result to be executed.

“Bearing in mind that I expect the British state will put every conceivable manner of administrative, legal and political obstacles in our way, we will need a great deal of unity of purpose to see the result through.”

He continued: “Whether the referendum is within 12 months or 24 months of the Holyrood election, the most important issue is that we have a plan to have a referendum and to implement the result.”

Sheppard’s comments follow an intervention from former health secretary Alex Neil who told The National he believed ministers would hold a referendum within a year of a SNP majority win at the 2021 Holyrood poll.

Two opinion polls in recent weeks have put support for independence at 54% and also pointed to the SNP winning by a landslide and returning a record fourth term in office. The survey published last weekend by Panelbase on behalf of The Sunday Times also found strong backing for Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the Covid crisis, with the First Minister’s approval rating on the issue reaching 60 points.

Meanwhile, a debate has been ongoing within the SNP about what to do if the Prime Minister refuses to transfer powers to Holyrood to hold an independence referendum, as he has done.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry last week called for the SNP’s ruling body to back a policy-making debate at the party’s annual conference this autumn on how Scottish independence can be secured and what to do if Boris Johnson rejects a Section 30 Order request.

The QC, who is MP for Edinburgh South West and the party’s justice and home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, wants to ensure the crucial discussion and vote takes place at the October event.

“I have never advocated a wildcat or illegal referendum,” she wrote in an earlier column. “My interest is in the question of how Scotland might hold a legally sanctioned referendum on the question of independence without having to be dependent on the Westminster Government’s permission.”

The First Minister withdrew her plan in March to have a second independence referendum this year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Her Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell said the Scottish Government had “paused work” on preparing for indyref2 in late 2020.

He said the Government would focus its resources on the health crisis instead.

Russell set out the decision in a letter to Cabinet office minister Michael Gove, in which he said the UK Government should likewise pause its Brexit negotiations with the EU for six months.

He wrote: “Because of the crisis, the Scottish Government has paused work on preparing for an independence referendum this year.” Russell appealed to the PM to seek a suspension to Brexit talks, but Johnson refused.