THE SNP have underlined their intentions to hold a second independence referendum after a former Tory frontbencher said the UK Government believed Nicola Sturgeon's party was not serious about a new vote.

Adam Tomkins (below), the former Scottish Conservative MSP, pointed to a reduction of the number of ministers in the Scotland Office in the Prime Minister’s reshuffle and the move of Michael Gove from the Cabinet Office, where he was in charge of stopping independence, to a role in charge of housing in England, as evidence that Boris Johnson did not think there was going to be a referendum soon.

“No such referendum is imminent and no serious moves are being made by the Scottish Government to prepare for independence. The First Minister’s talk is hollow,” he wrote in The Herald yesterday.

But Tomkins’s intervention was rejected by the SNP, with the party saying the Scottish Government was “100% committing to delivering” indyref2.

The National:

SNP MSP Gillian Martin hit back at Tomkins, suggesting the reason the Scotland Office was downgraded was that “it was a white elephant”.

“For far too long the Scotland Office has been a ludicrously expensive and increasingly pointless white elephant that does little if nothing to improve the lives of the people of Scotland,” she said.

READ MORE: Here are 10 things to think about before another independence referendum

“Adam Tomkins seems to be indulging in some wishful thinking on his part because I can tell him for sure that the SNP government is 100% committed to delivering the referendum for which there is a cast-iron democratic mandate. No amount of desperate Tory bluster will change that.

“Boris Johnson’s bid to defy democracy is not just unsustainable, but entirely a result of knowing that being governed by Westminster is dragging Scotland down, and increasingly more people are realising that.”

Unveiling her Programme for Government earlier this month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood she wanted to hold a second independence referendum by the end of 2023 so long as the Covid pandemic has passed.

Her government’s agreement with the Scottish Greens also commits the parties to holding a second vote by 2026, with the joint policy programme citing the timetable to hold it by the end of 2023.

The First Minister’s policy is to seek the UK Government’s agreement to hold a second vote, as happened in 2014.

She has said that if Downing Street keeps blocking indyref2, MSPs will pass a Referendum Bill regardless, but this is likely to be challenged and struck down in court.

The situation – the pandemic, Johnson’s veto and a possible legal battle – has raised doubts among some pro-independence politicians about whether the Scottish Government can deliver a new vote by the end of 2023.

Speaking at an independence debate in Edinburgh on Tuesday night, Michelle Thomson (below), the SNP MSP for Falkirk East and a former SNP MP, was asked if she thought there will be a referendum by 2023.

The National:

She said: “I would incline to say no. In that respect, I think a General Election – I think there will be one.

“I hear stories from Westminster, they’re already planning that, and guess what – the Tories are confident about winning.

“So there is a question, then, about what is the mandate for 2023. I think that’s a genuine question.”

She added: “My own personal view is that I think that the SNP needs to up the ante on that mandate – what a vote for the SNP means.

“That’s only one mechanism though, of course. There are a great deal of others we need to deploy.”

She was also asked if the First Minister should request a Section 30 order “and get knocked back before 2023”.

READ MORE: Michelle Thomson: Ignore the Unionists – debate on independence timing is normal

She said: “I don’t believe she should, and at that point I think we should be using the next general election to shift the dial and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Asked if she was suggesting using the next general election as a “de facto referendum”, she said: “No, I’m not suggesting that. I think we need to do more around what a vote for the SNP is.”

The next UK General Election is due to be held in 2024.

Alba’s general secretary Chris McEleny said: “After he won a majority in 2011, Alex Salmond secured the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and it was then two years until the referendum. By this latest SNP timetable, if you wait until 2023 before you even try to secure a referendum, then at the very earliest it wouldn’t be held until 2025, and that’s if Boris Johnson agrees … and we know he will refuse.”