Division within the SNP could be impacting on support for Scottish independence, a new report has claimed.
Scotland’s governing party has been hit by internal disputes, with former first minister Alex Salmond claiming leading figures in the SNP had been involved in a conspiracy against him.
Meanwhile, his successor Nicola Sturgeon is facing a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament, with opposition leaders claiming she misled Parliament with regard to what she told MSPs about her knowledge of harassment allegations made against Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon was grilled by MSPs for eight hours as a Holyrood committee investigates the Scottish Government’s botched handling of complaints against the former first minister.
The think tank Onward commissioned two polls on support for Scottish independence – with these taking place just before and after the First Minister’s committee appearance.
In the first of these, 56% said they would vote Yes in a second referendum, with 44% favouring staying in the UK.
But the second poll, carried out a week later put support for independence at 53%, with 47% opposed.
The think tank said that while support for independence was “at historical highs” it was also “extremely volatile”.
Its new State of the Union report said: “In our second wave poll, conducted a week later, the Yes lead fell by five percentage points driven in large part by a nine-point swing among women and a 25-point swing among 18 to 24-year-olds towards No.
“This was the week that Nicola Sturgeon gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament inquiry into the Salmond trial, suggesting that division within the independence movement is affecting vote intention.”
With the SNP using May’s Holyrood elections to push for a second referendum, Onward said its poll had found almost half (49%) of all Scots wanted coronavirus to be “completely eliminated in Scotland” before such a vote is held.
This including 48% of Yes voters, according to the think tank, which stated: “It is clear that, however much they may support independence in principle, Scottish voters want politicians to focus on the immediate crisis of the pandemic, rather than independence.”
It went on to say that 43% of people – including 40% of Yes voters – wanted jobs and economic growth in Scotland to be “back to where they were before coronavirus” as another condition of having a second referendum.
The report said: “This suggests that voters see the economic consequences of the pandemic as nearly as important as the public health impact in deciding the timing of any referendum.”
Will Tanner, report-co-author and director of Onward, said: “The breakup of the United Kingdom is not a foregone conclusion. Headline support for Scottish independence may be worryingly high, but it is clear that Scots do not want a referendum until coronavirus has been eliminated and the economy recovered.
“In addition, the Alex Salmond trial appears to be sowing doubt in voters’ minds at exactly the moment the vaccine programme is proving the benefits of partnership within the Union.”
Speaking as the Scottish Government published a draft independence referendum Bill on Monday Constitution Secretary Mike Russell insisted that ministers had been “laser-focused over the past year on tackling the pandemic”.
But he stated: “The question we face as we come out of the health crisis is this: who has the right to decide the kind of country Scotland should be after the pandemic?
“Should it be the people who live here, or Westminster Governments?”
And SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “When the current Covid crisis is over the people of Scotland – not Boris Johnson – have the right to decide how we recover from the pandemic.
“The SNP is fully-focussed on tackling Covid-19, but the powers that come with independence are essential if we are to create the kind of country we know is possible after the pandemic.
“Boris Johnson and the Tories have ridden roughshod over Scotland by hammering our economy with a hard Brexit, stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament, and threatening to sign away our NHS in a damaging trade deal. We can’t let the Tories wreck Scotland’s recovery.”
Mr Brown insisted: “The people of Scotland must have the right to choose a better future in a post-pandemic referendum. Giving both votes to the SNP in May is the only way to protect that right and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.”