NICOLA Sturgeon must “seize the day” and hold a second independence referendum as “soon as practicable” after the Holyrood elections in May – even if Boris Johnson fails to agree a new vote, according to a former Yes campaign chief.

Dennis Canavan, who was chair of the 2014 pro-independence campaign, said the vote should take place next Autumn and warned that if it did not the Scottish Government could be perceived to be “pussyfooting around” and may lose vital political momentum.

Polls have put the SNP heading for a fourth term in government with a record majority in May.

However, the Prime Minister has repeatedly said he will not agree to hand over powers to Holyrood for a new vote.

The move has led to an intense debate in the SNP over what could be an alternative route to independence with the party’s justice and home affairs spokesperson at Westminster Joanna Cherry last month calling for Holyrood to bring in a bill enabling the Scottish Government to stage the vote without Westminster’s consent.

She warned the development would be likely to be challenged in the courts but argued that the Yes movement would not be put at a disadvantage whatever the outcome.

Canavan, a former Labour MP and independent MSP, agreed with Cherry’s fall back proposal and underlined what he sees as the urgency of the current constitutional situation.

“If the people of Scotland vote at the May election to give the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government an unequivocal mandate for indyref2, then I think the public mood would be in favour of holding indyref2 as soon as practicable,” he told The Sunday National.

“If the Scottish Government were perceived to be pussyfooting around, then the public mood may change and the chance of victory may be diminished.”

He added: “There are differing schools of thought as to whether the Scottish Parliament has the competence to legislate for indyref2 without a Section 30 Order.

“I am not a constitutional lawyer but I understand that that question would probably have to be settled by the Court of Session or the Supreme Court. If necessary, court action should be pursued to enable Indyref2 to go ahead.”

He appealed to both the SNP and the Scottish Greens, which also backs independence, to ensure there is a clear commitment to independence and a new referendum in their Holyrood 2021 manifestos.

READ MORE: Chris Hanlon: A National Assembly can help shape the future for SNP

“It would be helpful if all parties in favour of Scottish independence were to include a pro-independence commitment in their manifestos together with a commitment in favour of indyref2,” he said.

“I am confident that such commitments would produce an over-all majority of pro-independence MSPs with a clear mandate from the people of Scotland for indyref2.”

He added: “It may not be wise to spell out in advance what exactly would be done if the UK Government is intransigent enough and foolish enough to refuse a Section 30 Order but , if such a scenario arises, the Scottish Government should, in my opinion, have pre-prepared alternative plans, including the possibility of a legal challenge.”

Asked about the timing of a new referendum, he continued: “I have a fairly open mind but my preferred option at this stage would be to have indyref2 in the Autumn of next year.

“As Boris Johnson is fond of Latin quotations, I would say to him in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish Parliament elections that we are following the dictum: “Carpe Diem “ or “Seize the day”.

“There is a precedent. At the May 1997 General Election, the UK Government received a mandate to hold a referendum to set up a Scottish Parliament.

“I remember urging Government Ministers to act quickly by holding the referendum within a few months.

“For once, they took my advice and the result was an overwhelming majority for a Scottish Parliament. We should be bold and aim for a similar timescale and a similar result next year.”

Ahead of the SNP conference last month the First Minister said she wants a second independence referendum to take place early in the next Holyrood Parliament.

Speaking to BBC Scotland, she also insisted the UK Government’s current opposition to a vote

is unsustainable.

She told the broadcaster: “I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament.

“I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead. I’m a lifelong believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I’m also the First Minister of Scotland.

“My responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic, and I’m very focused on that.”

The First Minister added: “If people in Scotland vote for a referendum, there will be a referendum. Across the Atlantic, even Trump is having to concede the outcome of a fair and free democratic election.”

A succession of 15 polls over recent months have given majority support for independence with one putting backing at a record 58%.

Leading pollster Sir John Curtice has said Johnson as Prime Minister – regarded as toxic by many Scots over his support for a hardline Brexit Scots opposed – was a key factor for Yes support rising.