AN SNP minister has received both criticism and praise after calling for a long-term, gradual approach to independence in an opinion piece on Sunday.

Writing in the Scotsman on Sunday, Ben Macpherson MSP argued for a more gradual route to build consensus amongst Scots, and for his party be open to work with a Labour UK Government to mend relations and seek increased power for Holyrood.

He also argued that Scotland does not currently have the necessary infrastructure to become independent quickly and successfully.

As a result, he wrote: “Any reckless, overly disruptive path to statehood would quickly make our quality of life in Scotland poorer.

“Better to go down a gear and take the journey at a reasonably safe speed than crash trying to rush things.”

The argument has divided the Yes movement, being called “detailed, well-intentioned and pragmatic” by those that praise it and a sign that the SNP are “de-emphasising independence as a short term priority” by critics. Some applauded Macpherson for his "honesty", with one saying that the minister “wears his gradualism on his sleeve”.

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One of the three leadership candidates, Ash Regan MSP, reacted to Macpherson’s piece.

She commented that his honesty “effectively” confirmed that Humza Yousaf, the candidate he has endorsed, is the candidate “for years of prevarication on independence”.

Regan added: “Not only have Scotland’s ambitions outgrown devolution, but independence is critical in navigating the current, and upcoming, economic whirlwinds. I fundamentally disagree with Ben Macpherson as a gradualist approach will leave Scotland vulnerable”.

But Stephen Noon, chief strategist for the Yes Scotland campaign in 2014, and now studying for a PhD in theology at Edinburgh University, reacted to Macpherson's comments supportively, saying: “It reminds me of the case made by the late Professor Neil MacCormick in a book he edited in 1970: independence coming in well-considered stages as we build our institutional capacity.

The National:

“We take on more powers and, over time, create the institutional structures around Treasury and social security that we need, as has happened. We are quite far along the journey that MacCormick described, but these final steps are the most important ones.

“We find a balance between necessary independence of action in key policy areas and ongoing partnership with the UK, and of course renewed partnership with the EU. We move at a pace that takes the clear majority of the people of Scotland with us.”

However, SNP Policy Development Convenor Toni Giugliano questioned “what the purpose of the intervention is a day before ballots go out” and dismissed it.

He said: “Scotland is more ready for independence now - both structurally and politically - than it ever was in 2014. Support for independence is at around 50% - not bad given the prospectus hasn't been refreshed in a decade. 

“Labour have promised reform time and again and opposed the devolution of powers to Holyrood such as employment law - so what's different this time?

“There is no amount of reform within the UK that will allow Scotland to escape the damage of Brexit or recurring Tory governments we don't vote for. If the SNP doesn't fight the next General Election on independence, it will lose ground to a resurgent Labour Party which could set us back for years. 

The National: The MSP elected in 2016 ruled himself out as a contender for SNP leaderThe MSP elected in 2016 ruled himself out as a contender for SNP leader (Image: PA)

Giugliano added: “So, let's get our ducks in a row - once our leader is in place let's re-unite the party, re-establish the Yes campaign, publish a refreshed prospectus for independence that inspires and builds consensus, and fight the General Election with independence and the protection of Scottish democracy front and centre.”

James Kelly, of Scot Goes Pop, echoed this by stating: “The problem with Ben Macpherson's plan to go down a gear on independence is that I'm not sure there's a lower gear than reverse.”

Macpherson's fellow SNP minister Tom Arthur MSP joined Noon in praising the controversial piece.

He said: “This is a thoughtful piece from Ben Macpherson and should be engaged with seriously. Whether you agree or disagree with it, Ben's analysis sits within a longstanding school of thought that has been instrumental in reconvening our Parliament and SNP success.

MP Pete Wishart described the narrative put forward by Macpherson as “actually a big moment.”

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He commented that he had earlier in the week said: “If [SNP] are now de-emphasising independence as a short-term priority we must be honest with the party about it. It now looks like that ‘honesty’ is on its way.”

He further added he too had suggested Yes could “campaign to enhance and entrench the powers of our Parliament, use Labour’s constitutional review to argue for independence in the UK, or campaign for a ‘Scottish’ EU protocol” but that it comes with a risk of demotivating the current core independence support.

Alba MP Neale Hanvey joined critics by tweeting: “In the land of dreams where Labour adopted a pro-self-determination manifesto, but seriously...What the actual...”