The SNP has been accused of lacking confidence in its own independence strategy after four years of inaction over which question to put to voters.

Humza Yousaf has promised “page one, line one” of his party’s general election manifesto will tell people to “vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country”.

The SNP conference last October agreed that winning a majority of Scotland’s 57 Westminster seats next year would constitute a mandate for independence talks.

According to the SNP, those could either lead directly to independence or to Holyrood holding a second independence referendum, although Unionist parties disagree. 

The First Minister sowed confusion this week by saying the SNP would regard getting “the most” seats as winning the election, yet Indyref2 would rely on winning a majority. 

The credibility of the SNP’s plan has been further called into question by a failure to settle which question would be used in any referendum.

In 2014, the question on the ballot paper was “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and 55.3% of people said No and 44.7% said Yes.

But a different format was used in the UK-wide Brexit referendum in 2016. 

The initial proposal was a Yes/No format similar to that used in Scotland, asking: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

But an assessment by the Electoral Commission raised concerns this might skew voting towards one outcome and it was replaced by “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

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Since then, there has been a debate over whether a Yes/No or a Remain/Leave format should be used in a second independence referendum.

In February 2020, then SNP Constitution Secretary Mike Russell asked the Commission to re-assess the Scottish Government’s preference, which was to re-run the 2014 question.

But within weeks he called a halt - before the Commission board could fully respond - because of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Russell explained the pause was “until public health circumstances permit such activity”.

However the Scottish Government has never asked the Commission to restart the work.

This was despite Nicola Sturgeon including the 2014 question in the draft referendum Bill she had tested at the Supreme Court in 2022. 

Alex Salmond’s Alba party said the failure of SNP ministers to go back to the Commission betrayed a lack of confidence in the party’s own independence plan and election prospects.

Alba general secretary Chris McEleny said: “In 2011, Alex Salmond won a majority of seats in a proportional representation system which he used to face down the UK Government. 

“He had the question of independence tested and then put it to the people of Scotland.

“Sadly since then we have had a Scottish Government that is not serious on independence. 

“What does their Page 1, Line 1 plan if they’re even bothering to ask the Electoral Commission about the question? No wonder many people are asking: What exactly is the SNP’s strategy to deliver independence?”

Under the Referendums (Scotland) Act of 2020, the Electoral Commission must consider the question included in any Billl introduced at Holyrood to hold a specific referendum.

With the Supreme Court ruling that Holyrood cannot introduce or pass an independence Bill without Westminster consent,  there is no short-term prospect of such legislation.

But Scottish mninisters can still ask the Commission to use its discretion to test the question.

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Commission may provide the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament “with advice and assistance as respects any matter in which the Commission have skill and experience”.

It was this provision which allowed Mr Russell to ask the Commission to re-test the question in February 2020 without an Indyref2 Bill being lodged at Holyrood.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “In February 2020 we received a request from the Scottish Government to re-test the independence referendum question. 

“Ahead of the Commission taking a decision on this request, the Scottish Government indicated that it had paused work on preparing for an independence referendum as a result of the pandemic. As a result, the Commission did not consider the request.” 

An SNP spokesperson said: The SNP came together at our conference last autumn to agree the independence strategy.

"An independent Scotland can only be achieved through SNP electoral success and with majority support for independence. That is the way to overcome Westminster resistance, which is why achieving an SNP majority in Scotland at the general election is so important.”