JOHN Swinney has backtracked on a comment that the Scottish Government would have a mandate to begin independence negotiations with Westminster if a majority of SNP MPs are returned at the next General Election.

The deputy first minister was questioned about the possible route to independence if the Supreme Court rules against Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to hold a legal referendum in October 2023.

In that scenario, the First Minister explained that the next General Election, which is currently scheduled to be held in early 2025, would be considered a “de-facto” vote on the Union.

On Tuesday, after the SNP leader set out her route map to a second referendum, senior sources told The Times that more than 50% of votes cast would have to be for pro-Yes parties for the result to be considered an endorsement of independence.

But speaking on Wednesday morning, Swinney suggested a mere majority of SNP MPs – a minimum of 30 out of 59 – would be required. He later said he had misheard the question.

In the event that the SNP win that election, the Covid Recovery Secretary told BBC Good Morning Scotland (GMS): “We will very clearly have the expression of the will of the people of Scotland. And if we live in a democracy, if we live in a democracy where the views and opinions of the people of Scotland are recognised and responded to by the UK Government, then the process of Scotland becoming an independent country should take effect.

“But that will, as the First Minister said yesterday, only come about by a negotiation and legislative process that involves the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament in that process.”

The National: Ian Blackford with SNP MPs in Westminster, London after the party won 47 seats in Scotland in the general election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday December 16, 2019. See PA story POLITICS SNP. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

Asked directly if a majority of SNP MPs at the next General Election would represent a mandate to begin independence negotiations with Westminster, the deputy FM replied: “That is correct, yes.”

However, he later issued a clarification on Twitter, stating he had misheard the question.

"When [GMS host gary Robertson] asked me about a 'majority of seats' this morning on ... I only picked up on 'majority'.

"Referenda, including de facto referenda at a UK General Election, are won with a majority of votes. Nothing else."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson responds as Nicola Sturgeon sets indyref2 date

That statement aligns him with Sturgeon, who suggested in a separate broadcast interview on Tuesday that a majority of votes would be required, as opposed to a majority of seats.

Asked about the possibility of a General Election being used as a “de-facto” referendum, she told BBC Breakfast: “I’ll set out this in more detail should we be in this situation, which I hope we won’t be in because I hope we'll be able to have a lawful referendum.

“But the first issue of principle is that – and I've always said this – Scotland can only become independent if a majority of people vote for that proposition. And secondly, when a majority of people do vote for that proposition, as a matter of practical reality, and this will be true after a referendum, we have to negotiate the implementation of that with the UK Government.”

At the 2019 General Election, the SNP won 45% of the votes cast in Scotland, with the pro-independence Greens winning a further 1%. 

In their best ever UK election showing in 2015, the SNP won 50% of Scottish votes.

The First Minister stressed that the Government's priority is to secure a legal vote on independence on October 19 next year.

She told MSPs on Tuesday that Scots will be asked the same question as in 2014 and that the referendum will be “consultative”. Yet that hinges on the outcome of a Supreme Court case against the UK Government.

She told BBC Breakfast: “Actually it's the UK Government that should be getting pinned on the what ifs here. What I'm trying to do is respect democracy and the rule of law and to work away to deliver the mandate in the Scottish Parliament for a lawful referendum. And if that is blocked every time then what does that say about UK democracy? What does it say about the nature of the UK – certainly not a voluntary union of equals.

“I'm the democrat here trying to do the right, responsible, lawful thing. And I'm only having to find these different ways of doing it because I face a UK Government that is denying democracy and seeking to block it – not in the interest of Scotland, incidentally, they're seeking to block democracy because they are scared of the substantive debate on independence and they are absolutely terrified of the verdict of the Scottish people.”

The National: The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, is interviewed, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Washington. Sturgeon spoke to the Associated Press Tuesday on her first US visit since the COVID lockdown. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).

In a series of broadcast interviews, Sturgeon challenged claims that a second independence referendum would be a “distraction”.

“It’s not a distraction," she told ITV's Good Morning Britain (GMB). "The debate about independence is integrally connected to how Scotland equips itself to tackle these pressures. Take the cost of living, that's been exacerbated for all of the UK – but I'm talking about Scotland right now – because we're out of the European Union.

“Scotland didn't vote for that. The key root causes of that cost-of-living crisis, the energy market, the energy costs. These are all powers outwith the hands of the Scottish Parliament. To the many of the levers to lift people out of poverty, to help people with the day-to-day costs of living, are reserved to Westminster. So the powers of independence are about how we better equip ourselves to fulfil our potential at home, but also to play a bigger part with countries across the world in building a better world for everyone.”

She also challenged suggestions that it was too soon after the first independence referendum in 2014 to countenance another vote, denying that there had ever been a cast-iron pledge that the first ballot would be "once in a generation".

She pointed out on GMB that the vote was “almost a decade ago”, adding: “The world has changed dramatically in the years since, not least here in the UK.

“Back then, we were told that independence would take us out of the European Union. We've now been dragged out of the European Union because we are not independent. Democracy is not a fixed moment in time. People in a democracy have the right to change their minds when circumstances change.”