SNP 'will propose new referendum next year'
The SNP will propose another independence referendum in its Scottish election manifesto, the former deputy leader has said.
Jim Sillars said party members will demand a promise to hold another vote on independence in the "first line" of the SNP's 2016 Holyrood manifesto.
He said any other move would be "astonishing" and likely trigger a backlash from the tens of thousands of new members who joined after Scots voted to stay in the Union last September.
Reacting to the comments, Nicola Sturgeon indicated the SNP could pledge a second referendum in principle in a future manifesto but said it would not necessarily trigger an immediate vote. The SNP leader also repeatedly failed to rule out putting a pledge in next year's manifesto after being grilled on Mr Sillars's comments during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.
It will increase suspicion that the SNP will use its influence in Westminster after the election to force another referendum.
It comes as an Ipsos MORI poll indicated the SNP will win every seat in Scotland, with more than half the country on course to back the nationalists on May 7.
Mr Sillars became the first major SNP figure in the campaign to declare the party will propose a rerun of the independence vote next year.
"I would anticipate that a lot of people will be looking to next year's election, 2016 for the Scottish Parliament, to have a commitment for a mandate to hold a referendum when it suits us," Mr Sillars said. "That is the key thing, no timetable attached. But a commitment in principle? No question, I think that is bound to be the case."
He added: "I can't see a membership of 100,000 which came in on the independence issue not demanding that in the manifesto. It would be astonishing if you joined the SNP because you desire independence as soon as you can possibly get it and not expect it to be in the manifesto."
Asked if there was any doubt the SNP would promise another independence vote next year, he replied: "Oh no. I can't see how it can be avoided, frankly."
While making it clear he did not speak for the leadership, Mr Sillars is one of the party's best- known figures and continues to hold considerable clout with members. He is often described as Alex Salmond's former mentor and served under him as deputy leader in the early 1990s.
Ms Sturgeon has largely stopped discussing independence publicly and portrayed the SNP as a party that can be trusted governing in the UK-wide interest, offering England a "hand of friendship".
Ms Sturgeon was challenged by Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour's deputy leader, during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood about whether she agreed with Mr Sillars.
"I've got the greatest respect for Jim Sillars but the clue is in the title: former deputy leader of the SNP," Ms Sturgeon said.
However, the SNP leader repeatedly refused to rule out putting a second referendum in next year's manifesto for Scottish elections, saying it was up to the electorate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)