Nationalists who are pressing for Nicola Sturgeon to call a second referendum on independence have been told they must wait for the “right moment” for such a ballot.
Scottish Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell told those who want another vote on leaving the UK to be held sooner rather than later that the right time was not “the moment that best relieves our natural impatience”.
Another referendum should only take place when Scotland is “persuaded, ready and determined to win”, he added.
Mr Russell used his speech to the SNP annual conference in Glasgow to urge those pressing for what has been dubbed “IndyRef2” to be patient.
A section of the SNP has been been urging party leaders to push ahead with another ballot, offering independence it as an alternative to Brexit.
With the UK due to leave the European in less than six months time, Mr Russell criticised Theresa May’s “destructive, dysfunctional UK Government”.
He stressed independence was more than just an alternative future for Scots – who voted against Brexit in 2016 – but could also lead to the creation of a “better Scotland”.
Mr Russell said: “Deciding the when can only come after agreeing on the why. Because the why isn’t just about grabbing a lifeboat in choppy and dangerous seas.
“The why is about a route to a better Scotland, in a better Europe influencing the creation of a better world.”
However he was clear: “It can only happen when we find the right moment and the right arguments to make it happen.
“Our job as a party and as a Government is to both make sure that Scotland flourishes, no matter the circumstances but also to ensure that – at the right moment – the choice of independence can be made.
“The right moment – not the most comfortable moment or the moment that best relieves our natural impatience. The moment at which our country is persuaded, ready and determined to win.
“These are difficult times. They may become more difficult still and that is why the Scottish Government is working so hard to try and ensure that even in the event of a disastrous no deal we will be able to offer some mitigation and some protection.”
Ms Sturgeon has already warned the PM her party’s MPs will vote against any Brexit deal at Westminster which takes the UK out of the single market and the customs union.
Mr Russell echoed this, stating the SNP “will not be the midwives of Brexit, willing dislocation and disaster upon our country”.
He told the conference: “Let me put it this unequivocal way, if there is no offer and no possibility, at the very least, of a single market and customs union outcome, either for the UK as a whole or for Scotland as a differentiated part of these islands, then there is no meaningful option being offered at all, and no option that can or will have SNP support.”
He said if Scotland was “forced to leave” the EU “for no matter how short a period, the only sensible, evidence led, option is to stay in the single market and the customs union”.
He was warned of the impact Brexit could have on devolution – with relationships between the Scottish and UK governments having already become strained after Holyrood voted against giving consent the EU Withdrawal Act.
That vote took place after Scottish ministers raised fears the legislation was being used as a “power grab” to take responsibilities away from Holyrood.
And Mr Russell warned these tensions could worsen after the UK leaves the EU, saying: “Those who are keenest on Brexit are also those who dislike devolution the most.
“Their voices are loud and some of them are heard at the heart of the UK Government.
“These extremists regard anything that interferes with the so called ‘sovereignty of Westminster’ as dangerous and unacceptable.”
Speaking about the hardline Brexiteers, he added: “A no deal Brexit is their ideal destination, allowing them to pretend that Britannia still rules the waves. And they will waive the rules to get it.
“So I fear that if they have their way it is not just Europe that is dispensable. Devolution is dispensable too, as are Scotland, and Wales and even Northern Ireland – where the threat to devolution is also a threat to peace and security.”