THE SNP’s local election manifesto has pledged progress on independence and that elected councillors will support the Scottish Government’s “clear mandate” to hold indyref2.

At the party’s manifesto launch in Greenock on Friday, the First Minister said that councillor hopefuls will “voluntarily and enthusiastically” support a vote by the end of 2023.

It comes as it was revealed that the FM had held three top level meetings to discuss the topics to be included in new white papers for independence and to prepare for indyref2.

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The Scottish Tories have dubbed the independence pledge a sign that the SNP are a “party out of ideas” and raged that there was no mention of potholes.

The page of the party’s key manifesto pledge relating to independence reads: “The people of Scotland have the right to decide our own future and the people best able to decide how Scotland is governed are the people who live here.

“Independence provides the opportunity to pursue priorities tailored to Scotland’s needs and make choices best suited to Scotland’s interest.

“Independence will give Scotland the powers we need to grow our economy, invest in our people and public services, and build a fairer, wealthier, greener country.

“SNP councils and councillors will support the Scottish Government’s clear mandate to hold a referendum on independence in the first half of this parliamentary term.”

The National: The SNP local election manifesto dedicated a full page to backing Scottish independenceThe SNP local election manifesto dedicated a full page to backing Scottish independence

Asked by journalists at the launch if SNP councillors will be “expected” to back indyref2, the First Minister said: “The pledges section makes it clear if a councillor is elected they will support the Scottish Government’s mandate to offer the people of Scotland a choice on independence withinin the first half of this term in the Scottish parliament by the end of 2023.

“Of course a proposition that we were elected overwhelmingly on this time last year. I think the frivolity in your question was - will they be expected to support the Scottish Government, I’m not sure I’m going to have to ask them, I suspect all of them will do that voluntarily and enthusiastically.”

Asked by The National if the party is urging voters to back other independence parties on the ballot paper, she said: “I’m the leader of the SNP, it may be a bit unconventional but my message at this election is vote SNP, I’ll leave that there.”

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Scottish Tory shadow secretary for local government Miles Briggs MSP said: “These council elections ought to be about voters’ local priorities, yet the SNP’s manifesto proudly proclaims that their councillors’ focus will be on helping Nicola Sturgeon’s push for another divisive independence referendum.

“Voters can be in no doubt that if they elect SNP councillors next month, the state of their roads, the frequency of bin collections and rising council tax bills will just be background issues for a party for whom the constitution trumps everything else.

“In fact, there’s no mention of potholes or rubbish collections in a manifesto devoid of new ideas from a party that is clearly taking voters for granted.

“In stark contrast, Scottish Conservative councillors will be totally focused on voters’ local priorities – rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s self-serving ones. They will fight the SNP Government’s brutal cuts to local services and their centralisation agenda, while nationalist councillors remain compliantly silent.”

The National: Briggs hit back at the manifesto pledgeBriggs hit back at the manifesto pledge (Image: Newsquest)

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, said: "Once again, the SNP are falling over themselves at every level of government in Scotland.

"To show the country that their principle priority is not your soaring household bills, how long your waiting for an operation or your child's education but their deluded fixation with breaking up the UK."

It comes as Scottish Government officials confirmed last week that the First Minister held three meetings between November 2021 and early February 2022 regarding preparations for indyref2, but no minutes of the discussions were made available.

The FM, Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson held talks with civil servants and advisers where they discussed the “approach to the development and delivery” of new independence white papers.

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The Government has also confirmed that one senior civil servant and 14 other officials are working on the independence blueprint.

The referendum Bill has still to be laid in Holyrood, and there are concerns that the legislation could be referred to the Supreme Court if UK law officers deem the bill outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

We previously told how the House of Commons researchers have concluded that the row over a second independence referendum could end up in court – as it’s not clear whether or not MPs can block a second vote.