SIR Keir Starmer has been accused of “throwing in the towel” after repeatedly refusing to say whether Labour would support a second independence referendum.

Sir Keir, who before becoming Labour leader said an SNP majority at Holyrood was a mandate for Indyref2, merely said he would oppose a new vote until May’s election. 

But he refused to say if he would oppose it after that, saying: “We don’t know what will happen after May. I am not doing a hypothetical of what will happen after that.”

The comments, to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, come just days after Sir Keir said an SNP majority next year would have to be taken seriously, not ignored.

He said on Sunday: “If there’s a majority it’s got to be looked at in Westminster.” 

Boris Johnson has dismissed the idea out of hand, saying the No result of 2014 should be the once-in-a-generation vote Nicola Sturgeon promised on the campaign trail.

With Labour possibly needing SNP support to gain power in the 2024 general election, Sir Keir was asked today if he would ever support a referendum on independence.

He told Ms Kuenssberg: “We will be going into that election in May making it very clear that another divisive referendum on independence in Scotland is not what is needed. 

“What is needed is an intense focus on rebuilding the economy, on making sure public services are rebuilt as well and dealing with the pandemic.”

Pressed on Labour support for Indyref2, he again said opposition to a new vote would be Labour’s argument “going into that election next May”, but was unclear about a longer time frame.

He said: “I am setting out the position we will be taking going into the May election. We don’t know what will happen after that. We don’t know. We don’t know what will happen after May. 

“And in politics, people tell you with great certainty what is going to happen next year and the year after, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. 

“We are making our argument going into May that a divisive referendum is not needed.”

Asked if he was leaving the door open to Indyref2, he said: “I am setting out the argument we will make into May. I am not doing a hypothetical of what will happen after that.”

Reminded it was more than hypothetical, it was the central issue in the Holyrood election, he said: “Well, we will make that argument into May, have it out, have that argument, and get to those elections.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “We are eight months from the Scottish Parliament election and already Labour are throwing in the towel and agreeing to the SNP’s demands.

“Yet again, Labour are proving they’re too much of a mess to stand up to the nationalists. They’ll give in at the first chance they get. The Scottish Conservatives are the only party who will stand up for the United Kingdom every time.”

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove said: “Sir Keir Starmer has a problem accepting referendum results. He tried to block Brexit, and now he wants to work with Nicola Sturgeon to renege on the Scottish referendum result and break up the UK.”

Scotrish Labour leader Richard Leonard has also previously suggested an SNP majority, secured on a clear manifesto promise of Indyref2, would be a mandate.

Even Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said it would be a mandate last year - until he reversed his position.

He said: “The democratic mandate for a Section 30 order [referendum powers for Holyrood] is a matter for 2021. 

“We’ll see whether or not the Scottish National Party get a majority then.”

“I mean the Scottish National Party - not in collaboration with other parties, not in any alliances - but a Scottish National Party majority.”

A month later, after his remarks had generated considerable controversy, Mr Jack said the opposite.

"My position is that should the SNP get a majority of the MSPs in 2021, I still don't believe that a lifetime or a generation has passed," he said.

"I don't believe that it's a democratic mandate because the Scottish people decided in 2014 and that was only five years ago."