Nicola Sturgeon now has a “50-50 shot” at leading the SNP to a majority at May’s Holyrood election, the country’s leading pollster has said.
Professor John Curtice told the Record said there had been some slippage in support for the Nationalists since the start of 2020 but the party remained on course to emerge with the most MSPs.
A poll published today by Savanta ComRes found current voting intentions put Sturgeon’s party on course for 64 seats – one short of the number required for taking overall control at the Scottish Parliament.
Failure to win a majority is likely to be seized on by pro-Union parties as proof there is not public demand for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The SNP has made the constitution a cornerstone of its election campaign so far and is demanding Boris Johnson agrees to allow an IndyRef2 to take place.
But another poll published today by YouGov found that 51% were in favour of the union while 49% supported independence, once people who didn’t express a view were excluded.
Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said it had never been certain the SNP would be able to win a majority – a feat it achieved at the 2011 election but not in 2016.
“You would say we are looking at a 50-50 shot,” he added.
“The YouGov poll is slightly better than that. It’s not certain and never has been certain.
“Polls say about 49% of people are in favour of independence, most of whom seem inclined to vote for the SNP. You take those kinds of numbers and you’re looking at a tight situation in terms of an overall majority.”
The polling guru said polling suggested most Nationalists had believed Sturgeon’s recent evidence to the Alex Salmond Inquiry – but some had doubts.
“The slipping in support for the SNP and independence seems to go back to the turn of the year – it predates when the Salmond/Sturgeon row hit its heights,” he said.
“What today’s YouGov poll shows that Sturgeon has, for the most part, convinced SNP voters of her position.
“Though there is a minority – maybe 20% or so – of people who voted for the SNP in December 2019, but don’t necessarily believer her, or don’t think as much of the SNP as they once did.
“The worry for the SNP is, even though Sturgeon may have convinced most people on her side of the argument, is whether the Salmond row knocks a little bit off the party’s tally.
He added: “We are entering an election. And as we enter an election, voters become more partisan.
“Last year, polls found people who had never voted SNP, but did think Nicola was doing a brilliant job in response to the pandemic, and were considering voting for her.
“Now we get push comes to shove. A Panelbase poll found the SNP were just as succesful now as they were in January in retaining support of the people who voted for them in December 2019. What they are losing is the support of the people who have switched to them since 2019.
“As an election kicks-in, old loyalties begin to tug.”
Curtice continued: “Support for independence is basically what it was on Brexit Day in 2020. It has not fallen below the level it was running throughout 2019.
“The interesting question is now does it fall further?”
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