THE underdog in the contest to become the next SNP president has unveiled a plan for Scotland to become independent by late 2022.

Craig Murray, a former UK diplomat and a political confidant to the former First Minister Alex Salmond, said he had thrown his hat into the role as he believed the party had “slightly lost its focus on independence”.

He is standing along with Michael Russell, who is currently Brexit Secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s Government but also served in several ministerial from 2007 to 2014 in Salmond’s Governments, latterly as Education Secretary.

The former MP Corri Wilson is also standing for the role, which has been held by Ian Hughton since 2005.

Murray added that he was disappointed about the party’s decision not to allow a debate and vote on an alternative path to independence should Boris Johnson continue to reject transferring powers to Holyrood to hold a new vote.

Murray also referred to a recent interview by Andrew Wilson, the author of the party’s economic case for independence, saying that Scotland could be independent by 2026.

“A lot of us worry when we read interviews with people close to the leadership that Scotland could be independent by 2026,” he said.

“By standing I want to give conference delegates a chance to express their support for early independence and I thought the best way of doing that was by putting myself for president.”

On his plan to bring about independence more swiftly, he said: “I think we should achieve independence – by that I mean Scotland becoming an independent nation – two years from now at the latest.

“It would be sensible to start by asking Westminster for a Section 30 order. They will say no again. The notion that because they are more likely to lose means that they are more likely to grant one is stupid. It makes no sense whatsoever. The British state is desperate to hold onto the great resources of Scotland. They are not going to agree a process by which we leave and we will have to accept that we will be leaving the UK against the will of the United Kingdom.”

He added: “My own suggestion is that if a referendum is refused, we call back our MPs, and either the Scottish Parliament declare independence or the MPs and MSPs meet together as a national assembly and declare independence, and then as an independent nation we hold a confirmatory referendum. I think May’s election needs to make it plain that is what we are going to do.”

Russell said he had been approached by a number of people in the party asking him to stand.

“It was suggested to me that I should put myself forward for the role. I have done that so I will see what happens,” he said.

The role is an honorary one and traditionally one held by a senior long-serving politician. The office-bearer would be expected to work and support across all levels of the party, including the leadership and grassroots.

The SNP’s constitution states that it is an honorary role, elected for distinguished service to the party and is not an executive post.

“The fact it’s not an executive role makes it attractive to me. I don’t think it should be used as an executive role,” added Russell, who is standing down as an MSP before the 2021 Holyrood election. Russell said he was looking forward to the draft referendum bill being published and believes there can be a referendum next year.

Murray said he had told Salmond about his intention to stand for the role of president but that it was not the former First Minister’s idea.

“It was my own idea to put my name forward,” Murray said. “I think there is a feeling among a lot of people at the moment that party HQ is much too cosy, not open enough to the members, and that there needs to be some sort of check on them. So that’s why I decided to stand.”

Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, was charged earlier this year for contempt of court over blog posts he published before, during and after the Salmond trial. The former First Minister was cleared of all sexual assault charges after his trial in March. Murray, who is now a blogger, attended two days of the trial before writing about it on his website.