SUPPORT for Scottish independence has fallen nine percentage points in the past year.
Only 23 per cent of people in Scotland say they now support independence, according to the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.
That figure is the same as 2010, which was the lowest since devolution. For 2011, the figure was 32 per cent.
At the same time, 61 per cent said they wanted to see devolution in the UK continue, when asked to pick one option for Scotland’s future, an increase of 3 per cent.
The annual survey, which interviewed 1,229 adults face to face between July and November, is the first to take place since Mr Salmond announced his intention to hold the vote in the autumn of 2014.
The poll was welcomed last night by pro-UK campaigners, who said voters were growing “increasingly sceptical” of independence.
But pro-independence Yes Scotland said the findings failed to take into account recent developments, particularly caps to welfare benefits.
The poll also shows continued support for far stronger devolution of powers to Edinburgh within the UK. Two-thirds think that Holyrood should make all or nearly all decisions on Scotland, although that figure has fallen from 72 per cent last year.
That finding prompted the SNP to argue that independence was “the only option” to deliver those powers, with a middle option not on the ballot in 2014.
But the number of people who say they would be “quite” or “very” worried if Scotland became independent has risen markedly between 2011 and 2012 – up from 46 per cent to 59 per cent.
There has also been a drop in the number of people who believe independence will give Scotland a stronger voice in the world and who think it will give them more pride in their country.
On the crucial issue of the economy, meanwhile, 34 per cent of people think independence will make Scotland better off – the same as those who think it will be worse off after a “Yes” vote.
The poll, carried out by the independent group ScotCen Social Research, represents a blow to the pro-independence camp as it seeks to gain momentum this year in the referendum battle, and will exert fresh pressure on the “Yes Scotland” campaign to start turning around public opinion.
The 23 per cent figure in favour of independence is the same as that for the 2010 survey, the two lowest figures since the advent of the Scottish Parliament. Taken together, the surveys show average support for independence was at 30 per cent from 1999 to 2006 and has since fallen to 26 per cent from 2007, when the SNP took over at Holyrood.
Professor John Curtice, research consultant at ScotCen Social Research, said last night: “During the course of the last twelve months, the independence debate moved firmly to the top of the Scottish political agenda. Yet the proponents of independence have apparently struggled to capitalise on the resulting opportunity to persuade Scots of the merits of their case. Instead, more voters appear to have become concerned about the prospect of leaving the UK.”
Rachel Ormston, director of the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) Survey said: “The ‘Yes’ campaign still needs to convince a much wider section of the public that independence will bring real benefits, especially for Scotland’s economy.
“But unionists need to recognise there is a substantial gap between the public’s perceptions of Holyrood’s current powers and their preference for it to be responsible for most of Scotland’s domestic affairs.”
As well as the drop in support for independence, the poll shows that 42 per cent of Scottish voters think independence will give the country a stronger say in the world, down from 51 per cent a year before.
The proportion who think independence would mean that people in Scotland would have more pride in their country is also down, from 67 per cent to 55 per cent.
Some 21 per cent of voters said they felt confident about the prospect of independence, the poll shows. It also reveals that most people do not believe independence will make the country fairer or more socially just, with only 19 per cent agreeing that the gap between rich and poor will shrink after independence. That compares with 25 per cent who expect it to widen and 47 per cent who believe there will be no difference.
In tune with previous polls, the importance of the economy is revealed in findings which show a strong correlation between those who back independence and those who think it will make the country richer. Of those who thought Scotland would be a “lot” richer with independence, 73 per cent said they backed independence.
But most voters appear to back the “middle way” option of a more powerful Scottish Parliament. In similar findings to previous surveys, the new SSA poll shows a total of 56 per cent of people think MSPs should make the “most important decisions for Scotland” on tax, rising to 64 per cent onbenefits.
Meanwhile, 67 per cent of people said Scotland should either make all decisions for Scotland, or it should make all decisions apart fom defence and foreign affairs.
Those findings were seized on by the Scottish Government last night. A spokesperson said: “A clear majority think the Scottish Parliament should make most of the ‘important decisions for Scotland’ about the level of taxes and welfare benefits – both of which are still largely controlled by Westminster – and over a third say Holyrood should make all decisions for Scotland.
“An independent Scotland is the only option on offer which meets these aspirations and which will mean the Scottish Parliament has the full powers we need to build the country we want to be.”
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said last night: “We are making a strong and positive case for Scotland staying in the UK family and even more people are agreeing with us.”
Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokesperson, Patricia Ferguson, said: “The people of Scotland are really concerned about jobs and a strong economy.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP added: “This survey shows Alex Salmond is failing spectacularly to sell his dream of separation to the people of Scotland.”