THE SNP government has played down the prospect of a second quickfire referendum being staged on independence if Scots vote No in 2014.
Nationalist backbencher Sandra White said another referendum could be held if independence is narrowly rejected and the SNP goes on to win the Scottish elections in 2016.
However, the historic agreement signed by First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron this year included the specific provision that both sides would respect the outcome of the ballot.
And a spokesman for Mr Salmond yesterday resaid a referendum should be a “once-in-a- generation” event.
But opposition parties seized on Ms White’s comments, claiming they show the issue will never “go away” even if the SNP loses in 2014 and raise the prospect of the kind of ongoing constitutional upheaval associated with Quebec, in Canada.
That process was dubbed a “neverendum”, with a second vote being held in 1995 following the pro-independence campaigns defeat in 1980.
It is now being claimed that the pro-Union campaign will have to win convincingly in 2014 to avoid years of constitutional uncertainty, with claims this could undermine business confidence.
Ms White said at the weekend: “If we don’t get enough votes, then I believe we would go for another referendum, especially if it is close. It would be unfair to the people of Scotland, if it’s close, to tell them that its finished.”
The Glasgow MSP indicated the 2016 Holyrood elections could be a springboard to a fresh independence vote.
“If people don’t vote Yes – and I believe they will – if people are a bit frightened to take that step in 2014, we’ve got a chance to prove again that we can govern effectively and after that go for it again,” she said.
Mr Salmond had previously indicated it was likely to be decades before another referendum could be held.
A spokesman said yesterday: “As the First Minister has made clear on many occasions, the referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
However, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said Ms White’s comments underlined the need for the No campaign to score a decisive victory.
“It’s clear that the SNP – whose raison d’etre is separation – will not simply go away in the face of a 2014 defeat,” he said.
“Polling has repeatedly shown support for independence at less than 30 per cent, but that doesn’t mean we are complacent.
“It’s important that Scots vote to remain in the Union, and do so convincingly.
Labour constitutional spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said SNP had “let the cat out of the bag”. She added: “The SNP would be treating Scots with contempt if they refuse to listen to the will of the Scottish people.”
Quebec experience shows issue can rumble on for decades
The French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec has a strong nationalist movement and has twice held referendums on secession from Canada.
The province’s drive to become independent stems from the “quiet revolution” of the 1960s, which saw widespread social progress and with it greater protection for the French language and its official use and teaching in Canadian schools. A speech by Charles de Gaulle in Montreal in 1967 backing a “free Quebec” was followed by the creation of the Parti Quebecois (PQ), the main independence party.
PQ caused political earthquake when it won the provincial elections of 1976 and went on to form a majority government. That led to the first referendum being held in 1980. But despite a proposal that included a currency union with the rest of Canada, it was rejected by 60 per cent of the Quebec electorate.
A central government attempt to devolve greater control over policy making – if Quebec signed up to the national constitution – failed to win the support of some other provinces. A second attempt at constitutional reform in the 1990s also failed and led to a second referendum in 1995. The result was far closer this time: 50.58 per cent voted No and 49.42 per cent Yes.
The referendum issue was revived after PQ won the Quebec election this year.