Nicola Sturgeon has quietly dropped her previous commitment to hold another vote on Scottish independence by the spring of 2019, the SNP's manifesto for the 2017 general election has revealed.
The manifesto, unveiled at an event in Perth on Tuesday morning, is light on mentions of independence and gives no detail on when another vote should be held other than "at the end of the Brexit process".
When Sturgeon announced her intention to hold another vote on independence at the beginning of March, the first minister specifically laid out a plan to hold the vote between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.
The section on independence in the 2017 manifesto says that a referendum should be held "when the final terms of the deal are known" and that a win for the SNP next week would deliver "a triple lock" on Sturgeon's mandate to hold one.
Asked if she still stood by her previous timetable commitment of holding the vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, Sturgeon admitted a vote could take place later, depending on how long the UK government takes to strike a Brexit deal.
"I’ve said at the end of the process," said Sturgeon to journalists following her speech. "I’ve said that for a reason – because it’s important people have clarity about Brexit and what it means, and they have clarity about the options.
"I said autumn 2018 to spring 2019 for a reason, because that’s when Theresa May is saying the Brexit process will end; so I’ve taken her at her word. If that changes then of course we will have to consider our timing in light of that.
"The key point of principle for me is clarity of the process to enable people to make a genuinely informed choice."
Sturgeon ridiculed May for showing that she's "the queen of the U-turn" in this general election campaign, and questioned whether the prime minister's position that "now is not the time" for another referendum will survive.
The first minister said that, should May be re-elected as prime minister on 8 June, it would be "democratically unsustainable" for her to continue to postpone another vote on independence with a "reinforced" SNP mandate.
Sturgeon added that a vote for the SNP next week would also be a vote to support the Scottish government's proposals, set out last December, for staying within the European single market even if Scotland remains inside the UK.
"The Scottish government published compromise proposals that would keep Scotland in the single market, but these proposals were brushed aside by the prime minister," said Sturgeon.
She added: "This election offers people the opportunity to give [the proposals] democratic legitimacy and make it impossible for the prime minister to continue to ignore Scotland's voice."
Sturgeon went on to say that a strong SNP vote in June would give her a mandate to "demand a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table" – a demand that May has previously been clear will not be met.
For the first time in three years, Sturgeon does not appear on the front cover of the manifesto – which instead features babies and children – despite her being the only person to feature on the manifesto covers in 2015 and 2016.
Asked by journalists if this was a sign of declining popularity, Sturgeon replied: "The reason is simple: That baby is much cuter than me."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at email@example.com.
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