Alex Salmond has said he intends to stand again for First Minister "whatever the political circumstances" after the referendum.
In one of his clearest indications that he will stand for re-election if Scotland votes No, Mr Salmond said: "I intend to stand again in 2016.
"Whatever the political circumstances, there will be an election in 2016 and the people will choose the First Minister.
"I hope to be a candidate in an independent Scotland and I believe I will be a candidate in an independent Scotland.
"But I am not presuming that I will be First Minister, it is up to the people to decide.
"It will be for the people of Scotland to decide in any circumstances whether I will be First Minister.
"But I am available to discharge the duties of First Minister if that is what the people want."
Mr Salmond has said previously that he hopes to serve a full term if he is elected to lead the first independent Scottish Parliament.
"I would intend to serve and I would be at the disposal of the people in my party," he told ITV Border in January.
When asked if he would lead Scotland to another referendum if Scotland votes No in September, Mr Salmond told the BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday: "My view is referendum and the constitution are once in a political generation."
His deputy Nicola Sturgeon has suggested a generation could be as little as 15 years.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "If there is a No vote in September, the First Minister and his deputy must submit themselves to a vote of confidence in the Scottish Parliament without delay.
"Having parked the business of running the country for more than two years and having argued that independence is their only policy option, the people of Scotland will see through any attempt to grandstand and cling to office.
"Scotland will need fresh leadership and should expect no less."
Paul Martin, Labour's business manager, said: "This surprise U-turn by the First Minister explains why Nicola Sturgeon has been so grumpy lately.
"Alex Salmond boldly pronounced he was staking his career - and his house - on a Yes vote, but since the polls have refused to budge he has obviously had to change his tune.
"After devoting his whole political life and his time as First Minister to achieving Scottish independence, he has to ask himself what would be the point of him staying on if the people of Scotland rejected his one and only aspiration.
"If Scotland votes No, the job of all politicians will be to unite behind the decision and get on with making the best of our country - it's hard to see where Alex Salmond's politics of division and grievance fit in that new Scotland."