The SNP “must” prepare for a second referendum on Scottish independence to take place in 2021, the party’s Westminster leader has said.
Ian Blackford said the SNP would have a platform to hold indyref2 “quickly” if they won the Scottish Parliament elections in May.
In an interview with the Sunday National newspaper, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said the party should focus on the Holyrood vote first.
He said: “We need to demonstrably show that the people of Scotland are determined that they will have their say and in the first case, we have to win this election for the people of Scotland.
“To be able to be respectful to those who are not currently with us that we’re appealing to join us; about that denial of democracy that is currently taking place and to affirm that it is the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future; and come what may, we will prevail.
“That referendum will take place and we need to plan that that referendum must take place in 2021.”
He said the coronavirus crisis had led to plans for another referendum being delayed, saying: “Covid has come along and the Scottish Government in particular, has had to take its responsibilities of stewarding the country through this crisis.
“So we’ve had to, from a tactical point of view, put off holding a referendum in 2020 and I apologise that that was the case.”
The party’s Westminster leader said the SNP would have a platform to hold indyref2 “quickly” when the crisis is over and they secured a “victory at Holyrood”.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown responded to Mr Blackford’s comments during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning.
He said a referendum should not be held as the country “heals” from coronavirus and its economic impact, saying there should be a “root and branch constitutional review to bring people together at a later stage”.
Mr Brown said: “I think most Scottish people will make up their mind that in the middle of a virus when you’ve got to heal the virus, you’ve got to heal the recession and you’ve got to look at the whole future of Britain – and the SNP have got to come clean about what it now means for independence, now you’ve got economic changes taking place – I don’t think this is the right time at all.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Blackford’s comments were “deeply disrespectful”.
He said: “Ian Blackford’s commitment to a referendum a few months from now is not just irresponsible but delusional and shows how out of touch the SNP are.
“The Scottish Conservatives are focusing on fighting the pandemic and rebuilding the economy. That is what people want and expect.”
He added: “The fact he feels the need to apologise for not staging a referendum this year as thousands of lives in Scotland have been lost and families continue to mourn is deeply disrespectful but also telling about the SNP’s obsession with independence over everything else.”