SCOTS will pay a price in reduced power and influence in Westminster if they vote No, veteran Quebec independence experts have warned.

The "nation within Canada" is the only place in the world to ever reject independence at the ballot box - in 1980 and 1995.

However, campaigners and experts believe the two referendum defeats weakened the province's government by losing it the biggest bargaining chip it ever had: the very threat of a vote on breaking away.

Alain-G Gagnon, professor of political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal, said: "People need to be aware, if you go for a referendum, if you lose it you will have to pay a price. You can't lose the referendum and not lose something else.

"Scots should be advised that the centre always wants to protect itself. Even if they say they want to consider some devo max, forget it. They will say, 'No, we shall not give them more power, look what they have done with the power they have'. They will say 'If we give them more power, there'll be a slippery slope there'. Their strategy will be to limit the power of Holyrood."

Quebecers solidly supported their federation with Canada in 1980 on the promise of more powers that - independence campaigners argue - failed to materialise. The No vote in 1995 was so narrow - the difference was fewer than 50,000 - some thought the narrow victory for No would force concessions, more autonomy. It did not.

Bernard Drainville, a prominent member of Quebec's main independence force, Parti Quebecois echoed Mr Gagnon's views.

He said: "I am of the opinion that the strength of our independence movement determines the bargain power we have with the central government.

"In the same way I am convinced that the strength of the Scottish indy movement is the key determinant of Scotland's bargaining power with London. The fact that there is a strong indy movement gives you the strength to protect your interests, to get the better deal from London."

Mr Drainville added: "Not only did we punish ourselves by saying no to this great idea of founding our own country, but we also weakened ourselves because the rest of Canada kind of assumed that losing makes the future threat of a referendum less credible.

"So my advice to Scots would be: don't miss your chance. The big advantage that Scotland has is its natural resources, its oil, its financial sector. You can manage, you can do it."

And one of Canada's most prominent unionists Senator Dennis Dawson acknowledged that losing a referendum hurt Quebec. But he laid the blame firmly on his opponents for holding the vote in the first place.