FORMER Constitution Secretary Michael Russell is taking on a key role of overseeing the development of the SNP’s campaign for independence.

The SNP president, who stood down from Holyrood in May, has been appointed as political director of the party HQ independence unit.

It is the first major announcement on the SNP’s independence campaign following the election.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday tweeted she was delighted that a meeting of the SNP’s National ­Executive Committee had app­roved her nomination of Russell for the role.

“He will oversee the development of the party’s independence campaign, as we look ahead to #indyref2 later in this parliament,” she added.

Russell said he was pleased to take on the political direction of the work on independence.

He said: “Look forward to working with the vast range of enthusiastic talent, within & outwith the party, which is committed to a positive, inclusive – & successful – #indyref2 campaign.”

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Russell was the architect of the party’s route map to a referendum, which was published in January. Last week the Scottish Government faced accusations of failing to do enough to push for second vote in the immediate aftermath of the election.

Debate over the issue was sparked by a column by journalist David Pratt in The National, which argued the current silence on independence is “deafening”.

“Patience, bide your time, choose your moment, maintain solidarity has been my mantra based on the ­evidence to date,” he wrote.

“My fears though of jumping the gun on another referendum are ­rapidly being replaced by another fear, that of missing the boat.”

He was backed by SNP MP Joanna Cherry who tweeted it contained advice “my party would do well to heed”.

Meanwhile Alba leader Alex ­Salmond said on Friday the constitutional issue has “gone cold” since the Holyrood election and must be “heated up” again. A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The Holyrood election delivered a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum and we are determined to exercise that mandate.

 “As the First Minister made clear to Boris Johnson in the wake of the election result, a referendum is now a matter of when not if, and it is our intention to hold it within the first half of this ­parliamentary term, when it is safe to do so.

“She has also been clear that the immediate priority is steering Scotland safely through the rest of the pandemic.”

He added: “The UK Government have no democratic, electoral or ­moral authority whatsoever to stand in the way of Scotland’s right to ­decide our own future – and ­privately, they know that, which is why their ­position cannot and will not hold.”

The SNP’s roadmap to a ­referendum stated that if it took office again then the Scottish Government will request a section 30 order from ­Westminster.

It also outlined plans to introduce and pass a bill for a referendum to take place after the pandemic, a draft of which has been published.

Dr Alex Smith, a Scottish politics expert based at Warwick University’s department of sociology, said the stakes for the SNP were “really high”.

He said: “The question some of the people who really argue for the ­referendum taking place sooner ­rather than later need to ask ­themselves is – what happens if the Yes camp loses a second time?

“If they lose in this context, it really will be a once in a generation thing. There won’t be a third referendum in five years’ time or anything like that.”

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However he said one of the ­problems the SNP will face is that when the pandemic is over there will be people who will be wary of the ­turmoil caused by Brexit and Covid in the past few years.

“I think there is a chance in that circumstance people will vote for a status quo result again,” he said.

“Timing is crucial – and if they blundered ahead now, I think that would be very counter-productive to their overall efforts to win a referendum but also to look like a responsible government dealing with the after effects of a coronavirus pandemic, which has got to be their top ­priority – and Nicola Sturgeon has said as much. 

“There is a danger that the ­support for it ebbs away – so getting the ­timing right is going to be a very, very tricky calculation.”

Smith also pointed out it had only been six weeks since the election.

He said: “We would normally grant a government a bit longer than that.

“Covid is the top priority – what would people make of Nicola ­ Sturgeon if she started banging on about independence just as the Delta variant comes in and causes a third or fourth wave of this virus? I think that would sound politically pretty hollow.”