NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to launch an independence campaign imminently as her party faces a power struggle over key posts on its ruling body.

The plea is being made by a group within the SNP which has today launched a new “manifesto for ­democracy” and unveiled a list of 18 candidates it supports for positions on the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

Joanna Cherry QC, the MP for ­Edinburgh South West and the ­party’s justice and home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, is among those ­being backed by the group in the NEC contests.

Two of Cherry’s staff members – Fraser Thompson and Catriona ­MacDonald – are also among ­candidates, as are MPs Neil Hanvey and Douglas Chapman and former MP Roger Mullin.

All 18 contenders are being supported by the SNP’s Common Weal Group (CWG) after they signed its manifesto setting out a set of objectives including seeking commitment by the party leadership to launch an independence campaign in 2021 and a series of internal reforms.

The NEC elections are due to take place at the party’s annual conference being held remotely from November 28 to 30.

Should all CWG candidates win, they would make up 18 of around 30 NEC positions or 60% of the posts giving them a significant majority on the body.

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In September Cherry launched a fierce attack on the existing NEC and called for people on the body to be voted off.

“What we need on our NEC are members whose only priorities are the furtherance of the cause of independence, our country, its people and the party,” she wrote in The National.

Her call came after the MP abandoned a plan to stand for Holyrood following an NEC rule change which would have meant having to stand down from Westminster before ­attempting to win a seat as an MSP. It was widely seen as a deliberate attempt to stop her switching to the Scottish Parliament.

A key objective in the CWG manifesto is advancing the independence cause by giving the grassroots a greater say in policy and decision making.

The manifesto includes steps to ­improve accountability and transparency in areas such as financial ­matters and the complaints process.

Its publication follows anger among some SNP members over the conference agenda set by the party’s ­conference committee which rejected proposals for a ‘Plan B’ route to independence in the absence of a ­Section 30 order from the Prime ­Minister ­Boris Johnson.

A motion by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny was first turned down with a second attempt by the CWG to get the matter on to the agenda with a different resolution. However, the CWG resolution was also rejected.

The SNP’s final conference agenda contained six composite motions but omitted amendments by branches. Other resolutions which were excluded were ones on currency options post independence, reforming grouse moors and committing to UN-led ­nuclear disarmament.

CWG convener Craig Berry stated: “We must revive internal party ­democracy and policy debate, ensuring the SNP is ready to deliver ­Scottish independence. We can’t keep ordinary party members shut out of the conversation anymore.”

Cherry added: “As Craig Berry says this is all about reviving internal party democracy and policy debate in the SNP.

“It’s about assisting rather than undermining the leadership of the party.

“The NEC’s job is to deal with internal party governance. I and others believe that this could be improved and that the NEC needs to be a good deal more transparent and accountable to the membership.”

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The manifesto states: “It is vital the SNP continues to play a prominent role in acting as the electoral expression of the independence movement, but we need to put members back into the heart of the party.

“We must revive internal party democracy and policy debate, ensuring the SNP is ready to deliver Scottish independence. To do this, we need to democratise the internal party structures.”

It continues: “Prepare and launch an Independence Campaign to begin in 2021 by reforming party infrastructure and developing new policy.”

On the complaints process, it adds: “We must establish a transparent complaints process which can offer members justice in due process, including a robust appeals process.”

Other NEC candidates who have signed the CWG manifesto include Rory Steel, Amanda Burgauer and Lynne Anderson.

SNP leaders have said plans for an independence referendum will be central to the 2021 Holyrood election campaign. Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Constitutional Affairs Secretary Michael Russell have said a new vote can take place next year.