Ian Blackford: Independence referendum could happen in 'late 2021'
The SNP's Westminister leader has said a second independence referendum could take place in Scotland "as early as late 2021".
Ian Blackford said he wants to see a vote "as quickly as is practically possible" but said the first priority for the Scottish Government is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
The MP has been criticised by other parties for the comments, with Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, saying pushing for another referendum was "reckless and wholly irresponsible".
Blackford said once the country has reached a "position of safety", it would be the right time to hold a vote.
In an interview with the Press Association, he said: "I want to see that referendum happen as quickly as is practically possible, I think it’s in everybody’s interest that that is the case.
"But of course we’ve got to get the election out the way, we need to make sure that the SNP are elected back into government again, that we reinforce that mandate for a referendum.
"There’s a bill that will be published over the coming weeks and that can be enacted once we’re on the other side of the election.
"Of course what I would say is that the first priority of the government is dealing with the COVID crisis, it’s about keeping people safe, it’s about the acceleration that we’ve seen with the vaccine programme, it’s about taking off the measures of lockdown as and when we can.
"But we do that based on data, we do that based on evidence, we do that based on keeping people safe.
"When we’ve got to that position of safety, that would be the right time to have the referendum.
"(Scottish constitution secretary Mike Russell) has talked about a six-month period once the legislation is triggered which could be in June, so it could be the case we could face a referendum as early as late 2021."
Responding to the interview, Ross said: "There is nothing more reckless and wholly irresponsible than pushing for another referendum as early as this year, when all our efforts should be on tackling COVID-19 and protecting jobs."
Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, added: "Another independence referendum will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people whose operations have been cancelled, or the children whose education has been disrupted.
"This suggestion from Ian Blackford is not just divisive politicking at a time when the country should be coming together, it's a threat to divert resources away from the issues that really need it."