NICOLA Sturgeon has dismissed claims the SNP’s manifesto for the Holyrood elections will not contain a commitment to holding a referendum on Scottish independence.

The SNP yesterday confirmed that the party’s manifesto had yet to be finalised.

The First Minister had taken to social media to distance herself from a report in The National’s sister paper, the Sunday Herald, which said the SNP manifesto would not contain a commitment to a second referendum.

She tweeted: “News to me! Manifesto not finalised yet.”

Last week the First Minister pledged to put the fight for Scottish independence at the heart of her party’s campaign ahead of the May vote, saying she was confident she would win a majority support for the cause “over the next few years”.

“Of course, I believe today as strongly as I ever have that independence is the best future for our country,” she told a New Year’s debate in Holyrood last Tuesday.

“That’s why, in the months to come, we will also lead a renewed debate about how the enduring principle of that case – that decisions about Scotland are best taken by people who live here – is relevant to, demanded by, the circumstances of the world we live in today.”

She added: “We will make that case positively and powerfully, and we will do it in a realistic and relevant way and, in doing so, I’m confident that over the next few years we will build majority support for that proposition.”

It was the most significant reaffirmation of the SNP’s commitment to independence since the referendum, lost by the Yes side by 45 per cent to 55 per cent in September 2014. Some evidence since the vote suggests that support for Yes may have grown.

An Ipsos Mori survey commissioned by STV early last September found 53 per cent of Scots would vote Yes, 44 per cent would vote No and three per cent were undecided.

Later that month, a separate Panelbase poll found more than two-thirds of people believed the country would be independent by 2045.

Unionists maintain the case cannot be put for a second referendum because former first minister Alex Salmond claimed it was a “once in a generation” event.

Salmond later said his view had been “overtaken by events” and that Scotland was heading for another referendum “much faster” than he originally anticipated.

Yesterday Ronnie Cowan, the SNP MP who led the campaign for a Yes vote in Inverclyde, said he would be happy to see a pledge for an independence referendum in the party’s Holyrood manifesto, saying independence was “inevitable”.

“It’s a question of when, not if. In this age of global communications and with a populace that is more media savvy and politically involved than ever before, people want their voices to be heard,” he told The National.

“In a strange way, the SNP are damned if we do include a commitment to a referendum in the manifesto – 'once in a generation' – and damned if we don’t – 'we are the party of independence'. Putting it in the manifesto simply defines a timescale. Personally, if we do, I am happy.”

The Sunday Herald yesterday claimed the SNP would not “include a firm pledge to hold a referendum” but would repeat the First Minister’s argument in her October conference speech that “it would be wrong to propose a new vote without strong and consistent evidence that significant numbers of No voters had changed their minds”.

The newspaper added: “It would be wrong to categorically rule out a referendum, in case of a sudden shift in opinion, perhaps caused by a vote to leave the EU against Scotland’s wishes.”

SNP sources also pointed out to the Sunday Herald that if the SNP win again in May – as polls suggest they will – and the party has not included a referendum pledge its manifesto, the First Minister would lack an electoral mandate to hold one.

She would then have to ask David Cameron to grant a legally binding vote – something the Prime Minster would be unlikely to do.

Left-wing alliance Rise said it would pledge a second independence referendum in its manifesto. A spokesman for the alliance said: “Without a doubt, there will be a commitment for an independence referendum in our Holyrood manifesto when it is published later this year.”

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, said his party would continue “to lay the groundwork on the case for independence”, such as plans for a Scottish currency, during the next parliament.

The National View: The SNP now face a tricky and very serious balancing act on indyref2