ANY independence negotiations with the UK government after an SNP victory in a General Election “should involve Scotland having a referendum”, the First Minister has said.

The SNP leader’s comments, which came as he was interviewed by Nick Robinson on a BBC Panorama special, appear to represent a rowing back on the position adopted by the party under previous leader Humza Yousaf.

During Yousaf’s time in charge, the SNP passed a motion at conference saying that, should they win the majority of Scottish seats at Westminster, the SNP government would be “empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country”.

However, Swinney has only said the negotiations should lead to a referendum – not independence itself.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “What we’re saying is that if people vote for the Scottish National Party, and we win a majority of seats in this election, that will trigger a process of negotiation with the United Kingdom government to bring about Scottish independence, and to enable people to have that choice.”

However, asked if that meant “Nicola Sturgeon was right” to say that the SNP would treat the next election as a de facto referendum, Swinney said: “What our position is, if we win a majority of seats, there will then be a process of negotiation with the United Kingdom government to give what we set out and will set out in our manifesto, democratic effect to the rights of the people of Scotland to be independent.

“My view is that should involve Scotland having a referendum, because I accept that the choice of Scotland becoming an independent country is a choice of great significance for the people of Scotland.”

(Image: PA/BBC)

Robinson (above) pressed: “So, you’ve changed approach from Nicola Sturgeon. She said, no need for a second referendum.

“Your party conference motion here, I’ve got it, says the Scottish Government would be empowered in that situation to begin immediate negotiations with the UK government. You’re saying no?”

Swinney responded: “That’s exactly what I’m saying. Immediate negotiations to bring about Scottish independence, so we can have the ability of the people of Scotland to decide their own constitutional future and for me, that’s a fundamentally democratic point.”

He added: “I think the best way to bring about Scottish independence is for there to be an open and democratic referendum as we had in 2014, and everyone accepts that’s the best way to go about this.”

READ MORE: Scots back independence and Tories face total wipeout, new poll finds

There are 57 Scottish seats being contested in the General Election, which will be held on July 4.

To win a majority, the SNP would need to return at least 29 MPs.

On Wednesday, an Ipsos poll suggested they were neck-and-neck with Labour, with a seat projection suggesting both parties would return 27 MPs.

Swinney’s comments come after Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, said there would be an independence referendum within five years of his party winning a majority of Scottish seats in a General Election.

Flynn suggested that a Labour government would take a different tack to the Tories of the past five years.

Elsewhere in the BBC interview, First Minister Swinney said that an independent Scotland would focus on raising revenue rather than resorting to austerity.

(Image: PA)

Swinney has repeatedly castigated Labour and the Conservatives during the election campaign, claiming both parties are refusing to level with the public that £18 billion of spending cuts are required.

The figure was drawn up by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), and the same think tank has also claimed an independent Scotland would need to make severe cuts.

Swinney rejected the claims, however, telling the BBC: “No, I don’t accept that.

“I think anyone that looks at my track record, I was 10 years the finance minister of Scotland, and I ran a balanced budget.

“I knew how to control money, I knew how to raise revenue, I knew how to make sure we lived within our means.

“So, I accept that an independent Scotland would have to exercise financial stability and fiscal sustainability.

“All of those considerations have to be part of the discussion about independence, but it’s an obligation of government to make sure that’s done properly.

“Of course, part of what we’re wrestling with today is the fact that the United Kingdom government of Liz Truss spectacularly didn’t do that and caused the type of increase in mortgages that people are wrestling with in Scotland today.

“What the Institute for Fiscal Studies is saying in their analysis of Scotland’s finances, they look at Scotland’s finances within the United Kingdom, but they also accept, and I think it’s important to accept this, that as an independent country, we would have much more flexibility and manoeuvrability as a country to improve our economic performance.”

The First Minister claimed GDP per head had risen faster in Scotland than the rest of the UK since 2007, while the productivity gap has “substantially, if not entirely” closed.

He added: “What [being] an independent country allows us to do, and if you look at other small, European, independent countries, they’ve got stronger economic performance than the UK, and Scotland would be in a position to emulate that.”