Scotland is facing the prospect of another independence referendum in the next five years after the SNP’s dramatic election triumph.
The party’s deputy leader appeared to warn last night that grievances over the new powers coming to Scotland could prompt a fresh vote.
Pro-Union leaders warned the country was facing years of instability as the SNP uses its election triumph to agitate for another referendum on the constitution.
Nicola Sturgeon had claimed during the referendum campaign last year that it was a “once in a generation” event, but has since said that a change in “material circumstances” could prompt a re-run of the vote.
Deputy SNP leader Stewart Hosie said last night: “There can only be a referendum when there has been a qualitative change in circumstance.
“Even if we do very well tonight, we need to see how Westminster responds. Will they finally keep the promise – the vow, the pledge they made to the Scottish people last year – for maximum devolution or the closest thing to a federal state within one to two years?
“It will be qualitative change in circumstances which will drive the next referendum if there is to be one, not simply a big SNP win in a general election.”
However, he said the current proposals to devolve more powers to Holyrood as part of the Smith Commission plans didn’t satisfy the party’s demands.
“The Smith Commission proposals were modest to begin with. They were watered down just before the Smith Commission [report] was published. They do not reflect the massive transfer that the Prime Minister proposed,” he said
Ms Sturgeon has insisted this Westminster election won’t provide a mandate for another referendum and that this will only come with a majority in a Holyrood on a platform of staging another referendum.
She said in an interview this week: “I am not going to rule it out.”
Another Tory-led government is poised to stage an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and former SNP leader Gordon Wilson said this could provide another route to a Scottish vote on leaving the UK.
He said: “Scotland and the Scottish economy is very much dependent on membership of the European Economic Area. To leave that would cause devastation.
“I don’t think the English would be so daft as to follow the Ukip advice and pull out.
“But if it did happen and there was support in Scotland for staying in – of a major degree and conversely in England there was difference – then faced with that choice then it might give an opportunity for another referendum.
“But I don’t think most commentators in the SNP are expecting that to happen and the timescale for that and another referendum may be within five to 20 years.”
He added: “The SNP are not so much interested in holding a referendum as winning one. Of course that means the economic advantages of independence have got to be demonstrated to the people.”
He accepted this could mean another referendum within the next Scottish Parliament.
“Politicians are not in control of what’s happening. The Scottish people are sovereign, that’s our constitutional doctrine.
“If the Scottish people themselves, and they may be ahead of the SNP in many ways, demand something to happen – and if then it is apparent that that is followed through with support for a Yes vote – the SNP could be under pressure.”
Mr Wilson said Ms Sturgeon should ensure the SNP’s manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election included a caveat that a referendum may be held if “circumstances change”.
Meanwhile, former Tory leader Baroness Goldie warned Scotland faced a period of “instability” as a result of the SNP’s sweeping gains. “The manifesto from the SNP next year will have a carefully finessed commitment to a referendum,” she said.
“It won’t be up-front and will be couched with a caveat, but the caveat will be that we reserve the right to call for a referendum if there’s any material change in circumstances for Scotland.
“And the SNP become the sole arbiters of what that is – and that to me is very destabilising.”