INDYREF2 could be held by the end of the year, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveals.

Notes from a meeting between Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell and a foreign diplomat confirm the Scottish Government may stage a ballot on the country's future before 2021 is out.

Nicola Sturgeon has this week faced repeated calls from the Tories and the LibDems to abandon all plans for a vote on the constitution amidst the pandemic.

Her official spokesperson told this newspaper that "no-one is proposing holding an independence referendum in the middle of the pandemic" and she's sticking to the blueprint set out in her latest programme for government, which pledges to publish a bill on on the terms of a future referendum "before the end of this current parliament".

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon pledges to deliver indyref2 amid demands for vote call-off​

The SNP leader said she remains focused on fighting Covid and will wait until the timing is right before bringing such a bill forwards.

Today Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused her of having a "false face" and "pretending" as the FOI details come to light.

The notes show how Russell met with an Australian diplomat eight weeks ago on November 10.

The meeting came one week before it was announced that 11 council areas would enter level four restrictions amidst rising coronavirus cases.

In the discussion with Australian High Commissioner George Brandis, Russell — who will step down at the forthcoming Holyrood election  — "set out the intention to publish a draft bill before the end of the parliamentary terms which sets out the question to be asked and the timescale in which, within the next term of Parliament, we consider the referendum should be held".

The National:

The notes continue: "MR noted following the Scottish elections in May 2021 there could then be no democratic justification for UKG [the UK Government] to ignore the rights of the people of Scotland to choose their own future.

"GB enquired about the proposed timing of the referendum post the Scottish election. MR confirmed he would hope a second referendum could be held by end 2021."

Seventeen opinion polls in a row have put Yes out in front with voters.

But Ross raged: "Nicola Sturgeon puts on a false face and pretends to have paused her indyref2 campaign but the SNP’s constitution minister let slip the reality to overseas officials.

"This document shows that while virus rates increase rapidly, the SNP Government’s official position is to hold indyref2 in 2021. Nothing could be more reckless when our entire focus should be on fighting the pandemic.

"Nicola Sturgeon’s self-declared cautious approach obviously doesn’t apply to a second independence referendum. When that’s the topic, she abandons sense in a heartbeat.

The National:

"A responsible First Minister would today denounce her constitution minister’s comments and confirm her government has u-turned and will no longer push for a second independence referendum this year, to get all the focus back on to the fight against Covid-19."

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

But in a statement to The National earlier this week, Sturgeon's spokesperson said: "No-one is proposing holding an independence referendum in the middle of the pandemic – unlike the Tories, who have disgracefully ploughed ahead with Brexit amid the Covid crisis.

"It is not for the Tories, or the LibDems – who are now a pro-Brexit party – to dictate to the people of Scotland what choices they should have over the nation’s future.

"That will only be decided by the people themselves in the coming election."