Constitution Secretary Mike Russell told the Australian High Commissioner he hoped an independence referendum could take place by the end of this year, new documents show.
In a meeting with George Brandis QC in November last year, the diplomat asked about the timing for another independence vote.
Mr Russell, reiterating comments he had already made in a BBC interview, said he hoped to see another poll held by the end of 2021.
Minutes of the meeting, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Tories, said: “MR (Mike Russell) 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.
“MR noted following the Scottish elections in May 2021 there could then be no democratic justification for UKG (UK Government) to ignore the rights of the people of Scotland to choose their own future.
“GB (George Brandis) inquired 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.”
The SNP has repeatedly said that a pro-independence majority in Holyrood following the 2021 election, which has been predicted by recent polls, should be enough to secure the powers for another referendum that have thus far been denied by Westminster.
In an interview with the BBC in October, Mr Russell said he was “sure” another referendum could take place before the end of this year.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said that planning for a second independence would be put on hold due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But officials are currently drafting a Bill to hold another vote, which is due to be published before the election and introduced to Parliament if the SNP retains power.
Tory leader Douglas Ross has said the meeting with Mr Brandis shows the official position of the Scottish Government is to hold a referendum this year; however the timescale for another vote is not yet known and will be revealed when the draft Bill is published.
“In her BBC statements, 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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Ross urged the First Minister to publicly denounce Mr Russell’s comments and assert that another poll will not be held this year.
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