PROMINENT figures in the Yes campaign last night welcomed the First Minster’s pledge to renew the battle for an independent Scotland.

Tommy Sheppard, a key activist in the battle ahead of the 2014 referendum, was delighted with Nicola Sturgeon’s intervention made during a New Year’s debate in Holyrood.

“Her comments are extremely welcome,” he said.

“No one should really be surprised by them, however. Nicola leads a party whose principle reason is to secure self-government for our country. But her comments are very welcome as our critics are trying to drive wedges between those in the Yes campaign by suggesting some have gone cold on the idea. But to show that we are just as hot as ever is important.”

Sheppard, who was a key organiser of the Yes movement in Edinburgh and is now an SNP MSP in the city, added: “Scotland is very much on a journey of which September 18 was a step.

“Even though we didn’t take a great leap forward then, the journey continues and in many ways the journey is continuing with a population that is more relaxed about its collective self that it ever has been....[Independence] has come to be the natural order of things rather than some distant dream on the horizon.”

Ronnie Cowan, who was the Yes campaign manager for Inverclyde and is now the SNP MP for the area, added: “The campaign for independence didn’t stop on the 19 September. Independence is the end goal, always has been and always will be.

“In the face of five more years of Tory austerity, that is being forced on Scotland from Westminster, people are seeing that Scotland could and should manage its own affairs.

“I shall be delighted when we decide that indyref2 is on the cards and once again look forward to running a vibrant, positive campaign. The electorate of Scotland are better informed and more engaged than ever. We shall learn from our previous campaigns and this time we shall deliver independence.”

Mike Small, editor of the pro-independence online magazine Bella Caledonia, welcomed the SNP’s re-commitment to independence, but he added that more needed to be done in terms of “bold” and “innovative” policy to build the case for it and win people’s confidence.

“A timid business-as-usual government won’t win people over to the big changes required,” he added.

“It would be good to see the SNP lead some participatory processes to look at some of the issues facing an independent Scotland and it would also be good to see some real innovation in the way we are governed. How do we build a genuine alternative to the austerity economy? How do we make the transition to a low-carbon society as we witness the devastation of climate change around us? How do we begin to tackle our health crisis? These questions need to be at the heart of the proposals for an independent Scotland.”

Sturgeon’s comments, in which she said she was “confident” of persuading a majority of Scots to support independence over the coming years, were the most significant reaffirmation of her party’s commitment to independence since the referendum, which was lost by the Yes alliance by 45 per cent to 55 per cent.

Last year former First Minister Alex Salmond said a second referendum was “inevitable” and could be triggered by the Tory Government’s continued austerity agenda, plans to allow only English MPs to vote on English legislation, as well as a British exit from the European Union, following a referendum on membership due before the end of next year.

Last night the First Minister’s comments were backed by the Scottish Greens and radical alliance Rise.

Patrick Harvie MSP, finance and constitution spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said his party too would be bringing forward “a bold package of ideas” ahead of the May elections to develop the case for independence.

“We will continue to research and put forward proposals which show the opportunities for an independent Scotland to prioritise equality and sustainability, and how to overcome the challenges of such a bold journey,” he said.

A spokesman for RISE added: “Nicola Sturgeon’s comments are welcome, but no single party can deliver independence for Scotland, a plurality of voices is essential.”