ALEX Salmond has stated that all “supporters of independence” will work together when a campaign for a referendum “genuinely starts”.

The former First Minister was speaking to the Sunday National ahead of his speech today to the Alba conference and as the SNP conference debate a key resolution on the referendum bill this afternoon.

His intervention also comes just days after Nicola Sturgeon put a second independence referendum at the heart of her programme for government, telling Holyrood she intended to hold a new vote in the first half of the parliamentary term so long as the coronavirus pandemic is over.

She also revealed civil servants were restarting preparations for a new prospectus for independence ahead of the vote. Work on the document was paused last year at the start of the Covid crisis.

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The First Minister will tomorrow give the closing speech to the SNP’s conference, which is being held online because of the pandemic.

During the first two days of conference senior party figures have been underlining the Scottish Government’s commitment to a new vote with Westminster leader Ian Blackford saying yesterday the SNP will “stay true to our word” and deliver indyref2.

And party president Michael Russell on Friday appeared to hold out an olive branch to those in the Yes movement – including Alba – who had been critical of his party’s recent strategy on independence and speed in advancing the key goal.

The former Scottish Brexit secretary told conference delegates that the party will “re-establish constructive links with all parts of the Yes movement” in an attempt to secure another independence referendum.

He said his party should be open to working with any pro-independence group “who want to make common cause”.

Asked yesterday if Alba would be happy to work with the SNP and Greens in advancing Scottish independence, Salmond said he would when the campaign “genuinely started”.

The National: ALBA party leader Alex Salmond talks to the media as votes are being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the P&J Live/TECA, Aberdeen. Picture date: Friday May 7, 2021..

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“I think it was four years ago that after a press conference Nicola held The National’s headline was 'game on',” he said. “Unfortunately that was four years ago and it’s been like groundhog referendum day.

“We’ve had, I think, a total of 40 National front pages announcing the referendum was starting – but it’s never started. So the day it genuinely starts then of course all supporters of independence will come together."

The First Minister has said she wants indyref2 by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, with independence in 2026 if there is a Yes vote.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who reports said yesterday wants to stay in power for a further 10 years – has refused to grant Holyrood the power to hold an agreed referendum, saying the focus should be on the economic recovery.

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The First Minister has said that if the UK Government keeps blocking a second independence referendum, MSPs will pass a referendum bill. However, the UK Government may try to have the legislation struck down at the Supreme Court arguing it is outside Holyrood’s powers.

Sturgeon said on Friday her timetable was realistic, despite Covid making “everything harder”. Asked on the BBC about the financial case for independence, and setting up a new country after the pandemic, she said: “Everything has become harder, but the point I’m making is, if we decide not to become independent that doesn’t magic away these difficulties and challenges.”