A SENIOR SNP figure has said a plan to make the next Westminster election a de facto independence referendum is “dead in the water”.

A meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) was held last night following the resignation of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

A timetable was set out for the SNP leadership contest, with voting open between March 13 and 27.

Meanwhile, a member of the NEC appeared to halt any proposal to use the next General Election as a proxy constitutional vote.

A special conference which had been organised for next month to allow members to agree on the route forward has now been postponed to allow any new leader to set out their vision.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry won’t bid to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader

As things stand, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is thought to be poised to throw her hat in the ring for the top job, with her campaign set to be run by Trade Minister Ivan McKee.

Allies of Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said he was also “veering” towards going for leadership, but it is understood he has not made a final decision.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has ruled himself out of the race.

Swinney said: “For the best part of the last 40 years, I have had the privilege of being at the very heart of formulating the strategy of the SNP.

“From a very poor starting point in the 1980s, I am proud to have played my part in building the SNP into a successful party of government in Scotland with an impressive electoral record.

But, he added, the SNP needed to “consider carefully” how to pursue its aims after the route to an independence referendum had been blocked.

“To create the space for that fresh perspective to emerge, I have decided not to be a candidate for leadership in the SNP,” he said.

Candidates will have until next Friday to put their names forward for leadership of the party with only existing members able to vote.