THE next steps to indyref2 will be outlined in the Programme for Government next month, according to the SNP’s Westminster leader – as he said that Scotland is now nearing a “position of safety” with the Covid pandemic.

However, Ian Blackford also cautioned the country was not “out of the woods yet” with the virus and that work has to be done to persuade undecided voters to support Yes.

Over the summer, some independence supporters have been ­critical of a lack of progress towards a ­second referendum, while Unionists have claimed quietness around the campaign is evidence it is waning.

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In an interview with Broadcasting Scotland, Blackford said the SNP manifesto had stated reaching a ­position of safety with the pandemic would be a priority.

He said: “I think we are getting to that point, but of course we are not out of the woods.

“The success of the vaccination programme has been an important part of that, we need to make sure the NHS is protected, that we can get back to deal with all the challenges we would normally face.

“When that is done, that is the right time to have that discussion with people, to have that ­referendum – of course the Programme for ­Government from the First Minister will lay out the plans that we have.”

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

The Programme for Government, which is published every year at the beginning of September, sets out the actions ministers will take in the ­coming year and beyond.

Quizzed on whether an independence announcement could be soon, Blackford said that would be up to the Scottish Government.

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He added: “But I have known the First Minister all her adult life and for my own part I have been a member of the SNP since the 1970s.

“The reason that we joined the SNP is because we want a different society, we want a different Scotland and we want independence.

“The First Minister and myself, Michael Russell, John Swinney – you name it – are absolutely united in our absolutely burning desire to complete the journey for Scotland to become an independent country.

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“We have got a duty to give ­effective government and I would argue that is what the SNP are doing – the ­Government needs to be able to do its day job.

“But the First Minister is absolutely clear that we have been elected on a mandate of delivering an independence referendum and that independence referendum will be coming.”

Blackford dismissed criticism that the SNP had become “too comfortable” in Westminster and was failing to take action for independence.

He said: “I don’t want to be in Westminster any minute longer than necessary, I would far rather get back here knowing the job was done and I can look forward to seeing other ­people taking that new Scotland on.

“But I say to those that ask the question why don’t we use the mandate, why don’t we get on with it – what all of us have got to do is make sure we can convince undecided Scots, those that are perhaps sitting on the fence, those that are moving towards us, to complete that journey.”