Alex Salmond has predicted that Scotland will see another independence referendum in around two years’ time in an interview marking the second anniversary of the 2014 vote.
The former first minister’s forecast of a 2018 poll will raise the expectations of independence supporters.
But it could also prove problematic for Nicola Sturgeon, who has said breaking up the UK is just one of several options she is exploring as she reacts to Brexit.
In an interview to be broadcast today by the Kremlin-backed Russia Today news outlet, Mr Salmond took the view that Prime Minister Theresa May would not be flexible enough to come to an arrangement that enabled Scotland to stay in the UK and maintain its relationship with the EU single market.
Ms Sturgeon is looking at the possibility of protecting Scotland’s place in the EU from within the UK.
With Sunday marking exactly two years since Scotland went to the polls, Mr Salmond told RT UK’s Going Underground programme s: “I would expect Nicola Sturgeon to fulfil her mandate to keep Scotland within the single market place.
“I would expect her to give Theresa May the opportunity to embed Scotland within the negotiations to enable that to happen.
“I fully expect, my reading of the situation is, the UK will not be flexible or wise enough to do that, and therefore I expect there’ll be a Scottish referendum in roughly two years’ time.”
Ms Sturgeon, his successor as SNP leader and First Minister, has pledged to explore all options to keep Scotland in the EU.
In the immediate aftermath of the Leave vote in June, Ms Sturgeon said a second Scottish independence referendum was “highly likely” if a middle way could not be found.
Recently, however, she appears to have toned down the Indyref2 rhetoric.
Her recent Programme for Government included plans for a draft Referendum Bill.
But when she unveiled her legislative programme, the First Minister said the draft Referendum Bill would be triggered “if” the Scottish Government concluded that independence was the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests.
Some interpreted her words as a watering down of her commitment to a second independence poll.
Last night a SNP spokesman said: “We’ve still had no clues from the UK government on what their meaningless mantra – ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – actually means in practice.
“Even the Tory frontbench at Westminster are at loggerheads with the Prime Minister over whether it includes keeping the UK within the single market.
“The reality is that an overwhelming 62 per cent of those who voted in Scotland voted to remain and that’s why Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she will pursue all options to protect our place in Europe, including another referendum on independence if that is the best or only way to protect our interests.”
Mr Salmond’s interview also saw the former first minister criticise Mrs May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.
The former first minister claimed the Prime Minister was hamstrung because her Cabinet was divided over the issue.
Mr Salmond said: “Theresa May’s attitude is, look, I’m not going to tell you what my negotiating position is.
“I’ve got some clever wheeze up my sleeve, but I’m not giving a running commentary.
“In fact, a successful negotiation is exactly the opposite.
“A successful negotiation knows where you want to get to and then says as much as possible in the short term about how you’re trying to get there.
“She’s doing exactly the opposite, and the reason is not a position of strength, the reason is she doesn’t know what the end destination is or is going to be, as she has no agreement in the Cabinet about that which is why she keeps scolding her recalcitrant ministers.”
Last night a spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “In his attempt to claim some publicity, Alex Salmond seems willing to throw a pall of uncertainty over Scotland’s future, just at the very moment when we need some stability.
“Only this week, polls showed – again – that a clear majority of Scots don’t want a second divisive referendum.”
He added: “The SNP needs to listen for once, put aside its obsession with independence, and get back to sorting out the problems it has created in government over the last ten years.”