Independence: SNP 'to keep asking until voters give right answer'

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THE SNP candidate in the Glasgow East by-election sparked a fresh row over Scotland's future last night, when he warned the Nationalists might not accept a No vote in a referendum on independence.

John Mason, who is a Glasgow councillor, said the SNP could go on asking the people in successive referendums until it got the answer it wanted – a view which puts him at odds with Alex Salmond, the First Minister.

"When you ask someone to marry you, sometimes you have to persist," Mr Mason said during a campaign visit to a community health shop in the Barlanark area of the constituency.

He quickly added that he did not expect to have "another referendum the following day" if the Nationalists lost the first one.

However, his remarks contradict Mr Salmond's view on an independence referendum.

The First Minister has stated a referendum is a "once in a generation" event and around 20 years would have to elapse before the independence question could be put to the people again.

Mr Mason's remarks are all the more embarrassing for the SNP leadership as he is a self-declared hardliner within the party.

Asked earlier this week about his approach to independence, he replied: "The whole SNP wants independence, there's no question about that – I think we all take a hard line."

The SNP's political opponents seized on Mr Mason's comments to claim he had proved the Nationalists were only interested in one issue in the by-election – breaking up Britain.

David Cairns, the Scotland Office minister, said: "These comments prove Councillor Mason is more hard line than Alex Salmond. He is the extreme face of nationalism.

"It demonstrates he is obsessed by one issue only, to the exclusion of the concerns of ordinary people in the East End."

Mr Mason's comments represent his first real slip-up in the campaign. So far, he has followed the party line and not deviated from Mr Salmond's view on anything.

However, he has now placed Scotland's constitutional future in general and the SNP's plans for a referendum in particular at the centre of the campaign.

Mr Mason tried to spend yesterday focusing on the growing problem of fuel poverty, praising the Scottish Government for the number of central heating installations it had carried out last year and its plans to extend health checks to more people.

The SNP candidate said he would be writing to Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, setting out an eight-point plan to tackle fuel poverty.

If Mr Darling was not prepared to come to the constituency to discuss the issue with the voters, said Mr Mason, then he would take his argument to the Chancellor.

Stewart Hosie, an SNP MSP, is expected to push this same message when he raises the issue of a fuel tax regulator – cutting the tax when the prices go up – in the Commons later today.

Meanwhile, it also emerged yesterday that Margaret Curran, Labour's by-election candidate, had inadvertently asked Mr Mason to vote for her.

Ms Curran sent a leaflet to voters in the constituency, asking them to vote for her, to help her stand up for them.

As Mr Mason lives in the constituency, he received a leaflet from Ms Curran.

A spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party

said: "Margaret Curran is fighting for every vote – literally. She is writing to every single person on the electoral register to set out why she will be the strongest possible voice to stand up for the East End.

"If Councillor Mason hasn't done this, then more fool him."