A SECOND independence referendum could be held by Christmas, Michael Russell has suggested.

The Constitution Secretary said staging the vote six months after Holyrood passes a referendum bill, which is expected in June, would be “best practice”.

However, the Argyll and Bute MSP refused to make any firm predictions.

Russell set out the SNP’s roadmap to indyref2 last week. It states another vote could be held if a pro-Yes majority is returned to Holyrood in May, regardless of whether a Section 30 order is agreed by Westminster. The document explains it would then be for the UK Government to decide if it wanted to block it through the courts.

READ MORE: Michael Russell: The race is on to enact legislation before Parliament rises

Speaking in an online discussion, reported by the Sunday Times, the Constitution Secretary signaled the ballot could come as soon as December.

He said: “I think it’s really impossible to say when it will be.

“Best practice suggests that six months should expire between the legislation and the referendum. That is because electoral administrators need time to put in systems — but I do hope the new parliament moves without too much delay to that.”

Ian Blackford has also suggested indyref2 could be held this year.

The National: Ian Blackford

The SNP Westminster leader told the Sunday national in November: “That referendum will take place and we need to plan that that referendum must take place in 2021.”

Recent polling has shown majority support among Scots for a second plebiscite within the next five years. The Savanta ComRes research also found only 16% think a new vote on leaving the UK should never be held.

READ MORE: More than half of Scots want indyref2 within the next five years, poll shows

The most popular options for holding indyref2 were in the next year or two years, at 18% and 19% respectively.

SNP ministers have said the vote will not take place until after the pandemic. 

Russell’s suggestion that the ballot could be held in 2021 appalled the Scottish Tories.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Yet again we see the SNP’s selfish intent to plunge Scotland into the chaos, uncertainty and division of another referendum.

“Even to suggest this could take place before Christmas is not only reckless and irresponsible but will damage Scotland’s recovery.

“Michael Russell also makes the arrogant assumption of the SNP winning a majority at Holyrood in May."

However, recent polls put the SNP on course to win a landslide victory in the upcoming vote. A Panelbase poll, published in the Times last week, put the party on track to gain seven seats.

It was also the 20th consecutive poll showing majority support for independence.

Continued support for Yes prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to visit Scotland last week, in an apparent contravention of his own coronavirus rules, in a trip reportedly designed to help “save the Union”.

READ MORE: Former first minister says Boris Johnson has 'lost the plot' over the Union

However, forrmer first minister Henry McLeish condemned the Tory leader's lockdown visit, describing it as a “safari” and said the Prime Minister had “lost the plot” over the Union.

Johnson has also been urged to stay out of the debate by former Better Together chief Blair McDougall.

The National:

He said he agreed with Labour MP Ian Murray who said the Prime Minister poses a “greater threat to the UK than any nationalist does”.

“I’d say to him ‘stop being the villain that the SNP want you to be. Step into the background and box clever’,” McDougall told the Daily Record.

“You should recognise that this is a battle that will be won or lost in Scotland.”

He added: “There is a distinct lack of that artistry from Boris Johnson where every intervention is briefed as being the intervention that will save the Union.

“If David Cameron understood that he was not the man who was going to save the Union, and that it was going to be saved in Scotland, Boris Johnson certainly isn’t.”

READ MORE: Former Better Together head says indyref2 will come, if Scots want it

The former No campaign head also said that if Scots “really” want a referendum in the long term, then it will happen.

Johnson’s trip to Scotland last was criticised by Nicola Sturgeon for being unnecessarily risky while strict travel restrictions are in place. She acknowledged he was travelling legally but questioned if it was “really essential right now”.

Downing Street defended the visit saying it was right the Prime Minister was “visible and accessible” to communities across the UK.