NICOLA Sturgeon has abandoned her plan to have a second independence referendum this year because of coronavirus.

Her Constitutional Relations Secretary, Michael Russell, said the SNP administration had “paused work” on preparing for Indyref2 in late 2020.

He said the government would focus its resources on coping with the health crisis instead.

“It follows from this that a referendum will not take place this year,” he said.

The announcement followed a series of recent admissions from senior SNP figures that the outbreak had scuppered any chance of nation-wide campaign in the short term.

Ms Sturgeon had wanted to revisit the No vote of 2014 in the second half of this year, stepping up her demands for it on the back of the SNP’s gains in the general election

However Boris Johnson blocked her request for Holyrood to be given the required powers.

Despite the Prime Minister’s refusal, Ms Sturgeon had continued to maintain that Indyref2 remained a live possibility this year.

Even in the face of the pandemic, her Westminster leader Ian Blackford said as recently as the weekend, that a date this year remained the SNP’s plan.

However former SNP health minister Alex Neil later rubbished the timetable, saying the chances of another vote on the constitution this year were “zilch”.

Former SNP depute candidate Chris McEleny also said it was not “wise or possible” to have a national campaign, with thousands of doorstep conversations, during the outbreak even if Mr Johnson suddenly changed his position and backed a referendum. 

Mr Russell set out the decision in a letter to Cabinet office minister Michael Gove, in which he said the UK Government should likewise pause its Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Mr Johnson has previously insisted that the UK Government will not extend the negotiating phase on future trade relations beyond the end of 2020.

The deadline for asking the EU for an extension is July.

Mr Russell also said the government had told the Electoral Commission it need not test the question for Indyref2 “until public health circumstances permit such activity”.

The Scottish Government had wanted the watchdog to re-test the question of 2014, “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or No” for intelligibility.

Mr Russell wrote: “Because of the crisis, the Scottish Government has paused work on preparing for an independence referendum this year. 

“We have also written to the Electoral Commission to make clear we do not expect it to undertake testing of a referendum question until public health circumstances permit such activity (while also urging the commission to reject the UK Government’s objections to testing). 

“That will allow us to focus all available resource on current and future demands in what is an unprecedented set of circumstances.

“It follows from this that a referendum will not take place this year.”

Turning to Brexit, Mr Russell adde: “We would now strongly suggest to the UK Government that the time has come for an equivalent action by you with regard to the Brexit process, and would ask you to institute a pause to EU/UK negotiations for at least six months.

“It would seem impossible for business and others to cope with the enormous challenge of

Coronavirus while at the same time preparing for a completely new relationship with the EU in nine months’ time.

“A pause is also necessary given the inevitable lack of parliamentary and public scrutiny of the negotiations and their progress over that period, when all attention and effort will be focused on our collective actions to tackle and defeat the Coronavirus.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This is very welcome news and will come as a relief to workers and businesses alike.

“Since the scale of this outbreak became clear, it’s been necessary for all governments and political parties to work together.

“This announcement from Mike Russell is very much in keeping with that spirit.

“Now we can really dedicate all our efforts to enduring this crisis, supporting those who will be worst hit, and ensure we can come out the other side looking forward to a bright future.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “I commended the SNP Brexit Secretary in Parliament for a very sensible decision in the face of this overwhelming crisis.

"I know how much this means to the SNP so it must be difficult to put their ambitions on hold. “We will have the debate on the merits of keeping our country together at another time, but we must put all these differences aside whilst we beat this threat to our lives and way of life. 

"I echo the Scottish Government’s call for the Brexit process to be delayed too. It would be sensible to put all our energies to working together across Europe and the world.”

A Scottish Greens spokesperson said: “It is right that the Scottish Government prioritises its resources to deal with the public health crisis that we all face. 

“The way we live our lives has changed and will continue to be dramatically impacted over the coming months. 

“Clearly this unprecedented situation will demand all the attention of the Scottish and UK governments, and many important issues from independence to Brexit will not be progressed for the time being.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is a sensible announcement from the Scottish Government.

“At this worrying time, the Scottish and UK governments must work together in the interests of every citizen in the United Kingdom.

“Scotland in Union has already paused all campaigning and would like to thank everyone who is working on the frontline in the NHS and everyone who is volunteering to help in their communities.”

Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray added: “This is the right decision by the SNP government, but it should never have devoted resources to an unwanted second independence referendum in the first place. This is no time for constitutional politics.

“Not only should there be no second independence referendum, the Brexit timeline should also be extended.

“It was already virtually impossible to secure a deal that protects businesses and workers, and now there is zero chance of securing that before the end of the year.”