Alex Salmond: I won't hold a second referendum if it's a narrow No

The First Minister says he won't stage another vote. But could someone else? 

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One question that has risen with increasing frequency, as the Scottish independence polls have narrowed, is whether a narrow No on Thursday would result in a second referendum in the near future. With the SNP expected to remain the dominant force at Holyrood, the potential exists for a "neverendum" (the term coined by Canadian writer Josh Freed to describe the repeated votes on Quebec's status). 

But asked this morning on The Andrew Marr Show, whether "if it's a No vote by a whisker", he could come back for another "in a few years' time", Alex Salmond said that it was still his view that the result would stand for "a generation."

He said: 

By that what I mean is that, if you remember the previous constitutional referendum in Scotland [on devolution], there was one in 1979 and then the next one was in 1997. That's what I mean by a generation. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, this is a once in a generation opportunity. 

Asked whether he could pledge that "Alex Salmond will not bring back another referendum if you don't win this one", he added:

Well, that's my view. In my view this is a once in a generation, perhaps even once in a lifetime opportunity for Scotland. 

But as Salmond, who will turn 60 this year, was careful to state, this is just his view. Nicola Sturgeon, the 44-year-old deputy first minister, who has emerged more clearly than ever as his heir-in-waiting during the campaign, has suggested that another referendum could be held within 15 years (a generation is usually defined as 25 years). As Harry recently noted on our new May 2015 site, the nationalists' demographic advantage means that they would be in a strong position to win a second vote. 

The possibility of a neverendum is one that Alistair Darling is understandably keen to forestall. He told Marr this morning: "The one point that I do actually agree with Alex Salmond is that I think with Thursday we've got to decide this for a generation. I don't know anybody who actually wants to go through another two-and-a-half year referendum." 

But it now seems unlikely that the Unionists will get the result they need to settle the question. Senior figures from Scottish Labour and Better Together have consistently told me that a double-digit win would be required. But with John Curtice's final poll of polls putting No ahead by the narrowest of margins (51-49), the odds are now against that.

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.