MICHAEL Russell has said he “is confident” a second independence referendum will happen in 2023.

The SNP president and former Brexit secretary made the intervention ahead of addressing an SNP meeting with activists last night and days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed she would be deciding the timetable for legislation to hold a new vote in “the coming weeks”.

Asked if he was confident there would be an independence referendum by the end of 2023, he said: “Yes, I am confident there will be an independence referendum as promised.

“That’s the mandate that exists, that was the promise that was made. I want to see that fulfilled and I am confident, everybody does, it’s quite clear the First Minister does.”

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Russell was speaking as he prepared to speak to SNP members on how an independent Scotland can join the EU.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, founder of the former think tank, the Scottish Centre on European Relations, was the other main panellist at the event and told the audience an independent Scotland could be back in the EU within five years of a Yes vote.

She said the EU remains open to enlargement, that any European state can apply and it is both a technical and political process.

“Scotland, a relatively small, developed country with 47 years experience of being in the EU does not pose any significant political challenges for the EU – assuming it achieves independence in a legally and constitutionally sound way,” she told The National ahead of the seminar.

“An independent Scotland would be in a very good place to apply to join the EU and to be recognised as a candidate country (and meet the Copenhagen criteria) relatively quickly – probably within a year.

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Dr Kirsty Hughes said the Scotland/England Border would be an external EU border

“Negotiations and ratification could then take as little as four years but that will depend both on meeting technical conditions and on wider EU politics of accession at the time.”

She added: “The European Economic Area is not a transition route to EU membership and has never been used as such.

EEA is an alternative to EU membership and one that creates a democratic deficit.”

On border issues, Hughes said the Scotland/England border would be an external EU border.

She said that goods crossing the border would need to meet relevant regulatory and customs rules – just as now happens eg from GB to Ireland or to France or the Netherlands. In parallel, she added, that the Scotland-EU border would be open for all goods and services.

And she warned: “There are economic challenges here, especially for a period of transition.”

More than 250 SNP activists attended the online event which was organised by the party’s policy convener Toni Giugliano.

He said: “Now is the time to equip our activists with the arguments they need to make the case for independence and persuade undecided voters – that’s why I’ve launched these seminars.

“The event on re-joining the EU as an independent country was sold out within 24 hours and we had to increase capacity twice – the appetite for independence and escaping Boris Johnson’s Brexit speaks for itself. Our opponents take advantage of the EU’s complexity in finding bogus arguments against independence. They say we’ll be vetoed by other countries, that we’ll be at the back of the queue, that we’ll be forced to join the Euro against our will and that our so-called deficit will prevent accession. The reality is very different.

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“The truth is that Scotland will succeed as an EU state where the UK failed. The sooner we escape this disastrous Brexit and win back our rights as European citizens the better.”

Last weekend, the First Minister said the timetable for introducing a bill for another independence vote would be decided in “the coming weeks”. She paused preparations for indyref2 in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus crisis, but ahead of the Holyrood election last May, she pledged to hold a referendum by the end of 2023 so long as the pandemic had passed.

She added Scotland appeared to be on the “downward slope” of the current omicron spike.

However, WHO experts fear the pandemic may not be over by the end of 2023, and believe new variants of Covid-19 will certainly arise over the coming months and years.