The brainchild of SNP campaign director and deputy leader Keith Brown, who said the taskforce will “lead on strategy as the party heads towards a referendum in early stages of the next parliamentary term”.
However the idea was slammed by pro-UK group, Scotland in Union, as well as Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs for “focusing on dividing” Scots in the midst of a health pandemic.
It is understood the taskforce, when appointed, will work within the SNP headquarters but will also involve other Yes activists on publishing a series of papers to “build the case for an independent Scotland” and establish “a national information service to assist people in making an informed decision”.
Mr Brown said its leader would be a “high-profile, experienced Yes campaigner” who would “lay the foundations of the referendum campaign before the Holyrood elections in May.
He added: “We’re ramping things up. The Independence Taskforce will bring strategic direction and expertise which I believe is the final piece in the jigsaw that will help deliver independence.”
The announcement comes after rising internal criticism in the SNP about plans for holding a second referendum, with many members urging the leadership to produce a Plan B if Boris Johnson continues to refuse a Section 30 Order, even if the SNP or pro-independence parties win a majority a the May elections.
Opinion polls have shown a decisive shift in the Scottish electorate towards a Yes vote, however they have also found a majority of Scots do not prioritise another referendum at present.
Reacting to Mr Brown’s announcement, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP are ramping up their push for indyref2 this year while the rest of Scotland is worried about their jobs and when they’ll get the Covid vaccine. They are stuck in the Holyrood bubble with no clue about the priorities of people across Scotland.
“Escalating their plans for indyref2 is rash and incredibly self-indulgent when the country is struggling through another lockdown.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said that with Scotland in the grip of the Covid pandemic, and “people losing their lives and livelihoods, the idea that we need a taskforce on separation shows just how out of touch the SNP is.”
Anas Sarwar MSP, who is standing to be the next Scottish Labour leader, said the SNP’s priorities were “wrong”. “Right now, political leaders should be focused on the coronavirus crisis, the vaccination programme and creating stability for the people of Scotland,” he said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, what is needed is a taskforce on jobs, health and education – not on independence.”
And leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister promised that the SNP wouldn't start a referendum in the middle of a pandemic, but off they go. They can't help themselves.
“Thousands of people are ill with Covid. Business and workers are desperately worried about their immediate future. Despite the promises of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, nationalists will always put their own interests first. Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.”