The SNP Westminster group is to step up its drive for independence next month, according to a leaked email.

In the email, the party’s House of Commons leader Ian Blackford urged colleagues to prepare for a “new phase” of campaigning and announced a mini shake up of his front bench.

Stewart Hosie, a former deputy leader of the SNP, has been asked to help play a key role in the effort.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants indyref2 to take place before the end of 2023, subject to the covid pandemic being over.

Restless pro-independence activists, particularly in the Alba party, believe Sturgeon should have made more progress on a referendum.

In an email sent to party MPs and staff on Friday, Blackford provided an update on changes to his top team.

Stewart Hosie is set to have a role in the shake up
Stewart Hosie is set to have a role in the shake up

He said Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard would be moving to a new role with specific responsibility for the constitution, devolved administrations and elections.

The email also said Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara will assume front bench responsibilities for the Cabinet Office.

Blackford added: “We will be moving into a new phase of independence campaigning when we return in October. I will be addressing this in more detail with the group when we return from recess.

“As part of this I will be asking Stewart Hosie to work directly with me coordinating our independence campaigning.

“These changes will collectively enhance our ability to hold the UK Government to account and prepare for us for the tasks ahead in the drive to win the arguments for independence.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Once again, SNP MPs are obsessed with finding new ways to create division.

“Constituents don’t send their MPs to Parliament to spend their time campaigning for their pet projects – they expect MPs to be focused on representing their interests.

“This demonstrates that the SNP is out of touch with the people of Scotland who want their governments to work together in the collective interest.”

It comes after SNP MSP Michelle Thomson cast doubt on Sturgeon’s 2023 timetable.

Addressing a pro-independence event, she said she did not “believe for a minute” Tory Prime Minister would “give us a referendum”.

She said: "I don't believe for a minute that Boris is going to give us a referendum. It's not in his interests to do so.

"There's a great deal of work to be done, because if there were to be an independence referendum tomorrow, as it stands at the moment, without those worked-through answers, we would fail."

Asked if she thought there will be a referendum by 2023, Thomson said: "I would incline to say no."

The SNP has been contacted for comment.

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