Ambiguity over plan for referendum causes panic in SNP camp

PRESSURE was growing on the SNP last night to "come clean" on whether the party is willing to shelve a referendum on independence in return for getting into government.

John Swinney, the party's former leader, yesterday would not confirm that the SNP's current policy of a referendum in the first four years is "non-negotiable", and Mr Salmond was "unavailable" to comment.

Mr Swinney's failure to take a clear position on the matter came after Sir Tom Farmer, who recently gave 100,000 to the party, told a Sunday newspaper that if Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, wins power in May he will delay the commitment to independence for at least four years in order to prove what they can do in government first.

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However, hours after Mr Swinney avoided the question, panicked press officers made the official line clear.

"It is a non-negotiable policy commitment to be delivered in the four-year term," said a spokesman.

The SNP needs to keep open the possibility of scrapping the referendum if they want to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

However, at the same time the party is in danger of alienating traditionalists by giving up their core policy.

Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem MSP, said: "It is an important time and an important issue and he [Mr Salmond] has to come clean."

Douglas Alexander, the Scottish Secretary, also accused the SNP of fudging the issue.