ONE of the most controversial of all No campaigners in the referendum has predicted Scotland will back independence within five years.

George Galloway, whose Just Say Naw tour preached Unionism to thousands round the country last summer, said he believed the tide had turned "irrevocably" from Labour toward the SNP.

The former Glasgow Labour MP also said Scottish leadership frontrunner Kezia Dugdale - who he referred to as "this woman who is running" - "would not be at the races" if his old party had any big political figures left.

The 60-year-old Dundonian, who now leads the Respect party, lost his Bradford West seat in the Commons last month but today launches his bid to become Mayor of London in 2016. One of the issues he is focusing on is greater devolution for the capital.

He told the Sunday Herald: "I think independence is probably nigh. The only way it could have been stopped is if we had got a Labour government last month and if that Labour government had begun to make a difference.

"But these next five Tory years are going to be very cold, and the SNP leadership seems to have the ball at their feet and know what to do with it.

"So I'd be very surprised if there wasn't another referendum in the course of this next five years, and I'd be very surprised if we managed to repeat the result we got last year.

"I'd take the same stand that I did last year. But I wouldn't be expecting to win."

Galloway, who represented Hillhead and Kelvin for 18 years, was expelled from Labour in 2003 for "bringing the party into disrepute" while attacking the war in Iraq.

Reflecting on Scottish Labour's decline, he said: "Labour's problems in Scotland began with the dawn of the Blair era and the decision that was made to send a B team to Holyrood.

"Me, [Ian] Davidson, [ Michael] Connarty, Robin Cook and many others were effectively told by the Blairites, 'You're not wanted at Holyrood'. That was a historic mistake."

As a result, Labour destroyed its own brand north of the border, he said.

"When I first went on the Scottish Labour party executive in 1975, the king of Scotland was [Scottish Secretary] Willie Ross. He reeked of power. He knew what to do with it, knew how to build coalitions. The Labour leadership today it is just incomparable.

"Round that table was Willie Ross, Donald Dewar, Bruce Millan, big union leaders, Gordon Brown, John Reid, Helen Liddell, Jimmy Allison. All big political figures.

"But Labour in Scotland has no big political figure - none - otherwise this woman who's running at the moment [Kezia Dugdale] would not be at the races.

"I'm sure she's a fine person. I've never met her. I've only seen her on television. But she's not any kind of big political beast, not by comparison with what Labour used to have."

In contrast, Alex Salmond "was a class act" and Nicola Sturgeon was doing "fantastically well".

He went on: "They're head and shoulders above the Labour political class. I thought Salmond would be a difficult act to follow, but there's no doubt she's picked up the caber and run with it. She's doing really well."

He was not tempted to join the SNP, however: "I hate nationalism, whether British nationalism or Scottish nationalism. It leaves me completely cold."

Galloway said his aim as Mayor would be to create a London for all "not just those dripping in gold".

Houses bought as "safety deposit boxes for rich people abroad" and left unoccupied for a year would be compulsorily purchased, and half of new developments would be social housing.

Among his potential rivals in the race to replace Boris Johnson are MPs Tessa Jowell or David Lammy for Labour, and MP Zac Goldsmith or ex-footballer Sol Campbell for the Tories.