THE SNP Government has admitted it may break its manifesto promise for a £600m roll-out of superfast broadband to all of rural Scotland.

It puts pressure on Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, who said he would resign if the deadline for the ‘Reaching 100 per cent programme’ (R100) was missed.

The government has pledged to deliver 100 per cent access to 30Mbps internet to every home and business in Scotland’s most remote communities by the end of 2021.

But it revealed last week that the key procurement stage had been delayed almost a year to late 2019 because of squabbles between potential bidders and revised plans.

READ MORE: Delay puts timetable for £600m rural broadband roll-out in doubt

Answering an urgent Holyrood question about the shifting timetable, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse admitted it was currently “impossible” to say when the R100 would arrive.

He said the date was part of the negotiations with potential suppliers, who were being asked “how much they will deliver by 2021”.

Mr Ewing, who sat with his head down reading paperwork while Mr Wheelhouse faced angry MPs, last year told the Scottish Land and Estates' annual conference: "If I don't deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for Fergus Ewing to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we're on the case."

Mr Wheelhouse said the final timescales would only be confirmed when a supplier or supplier was in place later this year, but ministers wanted it to be “as early as possible”.

Labour MSP Colin Smyth rebuked him for not specifying a date, and pressed him to say whether the government still expected to hit its 2021 deadline.

Mr Wheelhouse replied: “We will confirm this once we have a supplier or suppliers in place.

“It’s part of the actual negotiations with the bidders. We’re setting them our objective of achieving goals by 2021, and we’re inviting the bidders - this is how bidding works - to submit their bids on the basis of how much they will deliver by 2021.

“So clearly it’s impossible to say at this point in time, during the live procurement process, exactly what we will see.

“But I certainly want to commit to give parliament, as soon as we have a preferred bidder in place, we have dealt with that, then we’ll be able to come back to parliament with more certainty about the delivery timescales.”

Mr Smith said: “I think that was the longest ‘No’ I’ve actually heard. It’s quite clear that the government are not going to hit the original target that you set.”

Galloway Tory MSP Finlay Carson said ministers had been “crowing about the delivery of R100 for the past 18months.. .giving false hope to constituents right around the country”.

He said: “£100m has been promised but in reality, on the ground, investment in broadband infrastructure has fallen from £114m in 2017/18 to only £32.9m in 2019/20”.

He urged Mr Wheelhouse to apologise to businesses trying to get connected.

READ MORE: SNP ministers struggling to deliver 100% superfast broadband​​

Mr Wheelhouse said: “We’ve always acknowledged that 2021 would be a challenging target to meet, and given the scale and complexity of the procurement, legally, financially and technically, we’ll not sacrifice our aim of achieving the best result for Scotland.

“I’m confident the process is working well. We’ve maintained competition throughout the process, which is vital to getting a good deal for the public taxpayer.

“The Scottish Government is delivering well on broadband..Scotland continues to outperform the UK as a whole in terms of providing broadband superfast access.”

Spending watchdogs Audit Scotland last year warned it would be "difficult" for the Government to meet the 2021 deadline.