Alex Salmond has been accused of attempting to rewrite history after he dismissed as a “collective myth” his promise before the 2014 independence referendum that there would not be a rerun for a generation or even a lifetime.
The former First Minister claimed he had not used the phrase “once in a lifetime” in a 2014 television interview to describe the vote and insisted he had instead said it was the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
However, footage and an official transcript of the interview showed he did use the “once in a lifetime” phrase when asked whether he would pledge not to “bring back another referendum” if the nationalists lost.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr on the Sunday before the September 2014 vote, Mr Salmond said: "In my view this is a once in a generation - perhaps even a once in a lifetime - opportunity."
Scottish Labour said Mr Salmond’s attempts to deny that he had promised there would be a lengthy gap before a second independence referendum was “straight from his old friend Donald Trump’s playbook.”
Mr Salmond came under fire as Nicola Sturgeon, who made the same promise before the 2014 referendum, faced further questions over her mandate for another vote.
The First Minister repeatedly pledged during last year’s Holyrood election campaign that she would not stage another independence referendum unless Scots clearly wanted one.
However, another opinion poll, in the Sunday Times, showed fewer than a third back a second referendum in the next year or two. Ms Sturgeon’s preferred timetable, which was rejected last week by Theresa May, is between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
The SNP leader told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme that this could change if the Brexit negotiations took longer than expected but insisted it would be "unreasonable" to push it as far back as 2021, when there are Scottish Parliament elections.
Her stance on a separate Scotland’s currency remained unclear as she said the pound was her “starting position” but a commission she has asked to examine the issue will not report back for a few months. Mr Salmond hinted again that they will choose to start a new currency.
Ms Sturgeon also said the SNP’s policy remained EU membership but the “minimum” benchmark was single market membership. Mr Salmond confirmed the Telegraph’s report last week that this could mean joining the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) in the first instance.
Although the Scottish Government’s 2013 White Paper on independence raised the possibility of Scotland being forced out of the EU against its will, Ms Sturgeon has since argued her “once in a generation” promise has been superseded by Brexit.
But Mr Salmond went further by denying he had made the promise at all. He told BBC Radio Five Live’s Pienaar's Politics programme:"The phrase was not once in a lifetime, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I said it on the Andrew Marr show - it’s just one of these collective myths that evolve."
Ian Murray, Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesman, said: “We already know the SNP is perfectly happy to break the vow to the people of Scotland that the 2014 result would stand for a generation.
“But it’s another thing entirely for Mr Salmond to claim he did not actually make this cast-iron promise to voters. The people of Scotland will see through this latest bluster from a man who walked into the poorest communities in Scotland and sold them a lie about the economic case for independence.”
Ms Sturgeon denied that she had given an unequivocal promise to Scots before the 2016 Holyrood election that there would not be another referendum if they did not want one.
She told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge that popular support for a second independence vote was just one path for a rerun and another was Brexit.
But Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, accused her of breaking an unqualified election pledge. She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I don't think you can have an independence referendum again if you don't have public consent for it, and the people of Scotland don't want this.”
Referring to opinion poll findings, she said: “There are people right across Scotland, many, many thousands of them, that are so thankful for the Prime Minister to say let's take a pause on this."