SCOTS are prepared to back the SNP again in a Holyrood election even though they look set to reject the party in next year’s referendum on independence, new polling has revealed.
Some 40 per cent of Scots would vote for the SNP in Holyrood elections after six years in government, against 35 per cent support for Labour.
But only 26 per cent back independence, almost 40 points behind those who support staying in the UK (65 per cent).
While research on the specific “Yes-No” question was conducted between February and May of this year, with several polls having been released since then, it is based on the biggest sample of Scots so far – more than 10,000 – in the referendum campaign.
Researchers also found voters believe the Scottish Government cares more about independence than issues such as jobs, the economy and the NHS, and say this priority is wrong.
The research, which combines three different polls, was commissioned by former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft.
The SNP has a five-point lead over Labour (40 per cent to 35 per cent) in the Holyrood constituency vote, a sample of 1,000 Scots in June found.
The lead jumps to 12 points (36 per cent, against 24 per cent) in the list voting intentions. The latest polling follows a recent Panelbase poll that put the SNP 18 points ahead at Holyrood.
Almost half of Scots (49 per cent) say that the SNP has Scottish independence at the top of its priority list, with issues such as the economy and jobs (7 per cent) and improving the NHS (5 per cent) a long way behind, according to a survey of 1,013 people in August.
A majority (61 per cent) of voters say the Scottish Government has its priorities wrong and it should be more focused on the economy and jobs (41 per cent), and improving the NHS (15 per cent).
SNP backbencher Sandra White welcomed the strong showing that the party continued to enjoy at Holyrood. “Many voting intention surveys indicate a substantial SNP lead,” she said.
“The poll also shows that the top achievements of the Scottish Parliament are free prescriptions, abolishing tuition fees, and free personal care – all policies threatened by Labour’s Cuts Commission, and key social provisions which we can build on with the powers of independence.
“The only way for the Scottish Parliament to achieve the job-creating powers Scotland needs is with a Yes vote.”
But Blair McDougall, director of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, said: “It is increasingly clear that Alex Salmond is putting his obsession with independence ahead of the interests of the Scottish people.
“Instead of focusing on the things that people care about, likes jobs and the economy, the nationalists spend all their time campaigning for independence. Alex Salmond is more interested in securing his own place in history than securing a better future for Scotland.”
Labour leader Johann Lamont has also overtaken Alex Salmond in the popularity stakes, according to the bigger 10,000 cohort of Scots polled in the latest research. Ms Lamont has an overall favourable/unfavourable rating of +3, with Mr Salmond on -4, although 40 per cent of Scots had not heard of the Labour leader, compared with just 6 per cent who had not heard of Mr Salmond.
The poll is also a blow for the so called “devo-max” campaign, which is pressing for Holyrood to be given control over all areas, apart from defence and foreign affairs.
Most Scots (59 per cent) believe this would result in tax rises north of the Border, while two thirds (67 per cent) say that public services would either not improve or deteriorate.
A majority (53 per cent) also see the elections to Holyrood and Westminster as having equal importance, but a further 27 per cent say the UK is the more important of the two elections, compared with 18 per cent for the Scottish Parliament.
But MSPs are deemed to be more “in touch and committed” to their communities than MPs according to almost half (49 per cent) of Scots, compared with just 11 per cent who back MPs in this area. And twice as many Scots (38 per cent) say MSPs are more likely to do a good job representing them compared with 16 per cent for MPs, although 42 per cent scored them level.
A spokesman for Yes Scotland said the independence question research was “wildly out of date”, with a number of surveys having been carried out since its polling between February and May.
“Much has changed since then,” he said. “Indeed, it’s been superseded by another of this anti-independence politician’s own polls which shows a shift towards a Yes vote. And the most recently sampled poll shows Yes one point ahead.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar MP said: “This poll reinforces what Scottish Labour has been saying for a number of months: the SNP has put Scotland on pause while they focus on breaking up Britain.
“Scots know that this is a distraction from what really matters to them. At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, more Scots than ever are under-employed and underpaid, and with growing pressures on our NHS; the SNP are failing to govern for Scotland.
“It’s time for Alex Salmond to stop putting the referendum first and Scotland second.
“Alex Salmond is increasingly out of touch with Scots who want government to focus on getting our economy growing, creating jobs and fixing our NHS.”
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Of course we are encouraged by the indications provided by this poll in relation to independence.
“But we are also aware that this is a snapshot in time, and the real decision is a year away.
“The survey also demonstrates people’s annoyance that the Scottish Government is dedicating virtually all of its time on the separation pursuit, and completely neglecting its task of running the country – as we saw yet again last week, when the SNP announced the most lacklustre government legislative programme of the devolution era.”
The latest research follows a number of polls released in the past week. A Panelbase poll last Monday gave the Yes campaign its first lead (44 per cent against 43 per cent) since the referendum campaign got under way. But it was sandwiched between a YouGov poll the previous weekend which was 59 per cent in favour of a No vote and 26 per cent for Yes, and a TNS-BMRB poll on Wednesday, which indicated a 47 per cent to 25 per cent lead for the pro-Union side.