THE SNP are being urged to hold a debate at a spring conference next month to agree the party’s independence strategy ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament election.

Constitution Affairs Secretary Michael Russell, who is also SNP president, set out a 11-point plan last month to advance an independence referendum if Boris Johnson continues to reject an agreed new vote.

The move was seen by many as a response to growing pressure on the Scottish Government to come up with an alternative way forward should the PM fail to hand over powers to Holyrood.

Russell’s plan – later endorsed by the First Minister – was published in The National on the same day the SNP held a National Assembly on the so-called Plan B. The meeting was a forum for debate but does not have the authority to approve party policy, which is decided at by conference.

However, although Russell’s plan – which advocates facilitating a second independence referendum through Holyrood legislation – has the support of the party’s leadership, the SNP’s Chris McEleny argued it does not have the explicit approval of party members.

Last year the SNP cancelled its spring conference, due to be held in June, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The party has regularly held a spring conference during March in election years over the past decade. It is not clear if the party is proceeding with one this year.

McEleny says the conference should go ahead virtually with members given the opportunity to endorse what the independence strategy should be – the 11-point plan proposed by Russell, or the Plan B proposed by McEleny and MP Angus MacNeil.

The duo say if Johnson does not agree to a referendum, then a pro-independence majority at the Holyrood election should act as a mandate to enter into independence negotiations with the UK Government. Earlier this year they called on Nicola Sturgeon to set a deadline ahead of the election for the PM to agree a Section 30 order.

McEleny said: “What the SNP’s independence strategy should be at this May’s election is not a matter for Scottish Government ministers to instruct SNP members upon, but rather a matter for party members to determine.”

He added: “There must be a debate in advance of the election, at a virtual Spring Conference, so that party members can choose what our strategy should be - the 11 point plan set out last month or the independence Plan B of using the election as a mandate to enter straight into independence negotiations with the UK Government.

“As a lay led organisation I am sure Mike Russell, as party President, would agree that it is not for him or any one individual to set our strategy on such an important matter, therefore I would welcome his clarification that he will support a conference debate on Plan B in advance of May’s election.

“Boris Johnson has been clear that he doesn’t want the people of Scotland to have a choice on their own future, but SNP members must be allowed to choose how they best think we can ensure Scotland’s right to self determine our own future."

The SNP have been asked for a comment. Some 21 consecutive polls have recorded majority support for independence.