THE SNP’s hopes of quickly gaining momentum in favour of independence have stalled, according to a new poll that shows the number of people supporting the party’s plans to leave the union has dropped.
Two months after the official launch of the pro-independence Yes campaign, the new poll shows 30 per cent of people are in favour of secession, down three points from the start of the year.
The findings are published today, after David Cameron announced yesterday that he wanted a deal in place with the First Minister on a straight “in-out” independence referendum “by the end of September”.
It comes with UK ministers piling the pressure on Mr Salmond to rule out a second question offering extended devolution in the referendum, thereby ensuring the referendum comes down to a winner-takes-all choice.
Today’s new YouGov poll, commissioned by the Fabian Society, shows that – if such a straight choice was offered Mr Salmond faces the biggest challenge of his career to turn around public opinion in time for his preferred 2014 date.
A total of 54 per cent of people said they were opposed to independence, up one point from the previous poll in January. The results confirm the findings of other recent polls which have also shown that the SNP has so far been unable to translate its large majority support at the Scottish Parliament into backing among voters for independence.
The poll and Mr Cameron’s intervention last night set the stage for a potentially crucial three-month period heading into the autumn as Westminster and Holyrood argue over the terms of the question.
UK ministers have offered to hand powers to the Scottish Parliament allowing it to stage a legally binding referendum, but they insist the question put to Scots is solely on independence.
However, Mr Salmond has left open the possibility of a question asking people whether they would like more devolution.
Mr Cameron used a visit to Scotland yesterday to push the initiative over to Mr Salmond, as he set the clock ticking on a deal.
On a visit to Glasgow, the Prime Minister said: “Frankly the Scottish people deserve to have their fair, legal and decisive referendum. We have made an offer to let that happen and the Scottish Secretary and First Minister should be hammering out the detail so I can meet the First Minister at the end of September and agree on [the details].”
He added: “It really should be possible to do this – all the Scottish political parties and the two campaigns want a single question. For heaven’s sake, let’s not let process get in the way of the outcome the Scottish people deserve.”
Mr Salmond’s aides last night said it was not for Mr Cameron to say when the details of the referendum should be ironed out. The Scottish Government is still sifting through 21,000 responses to its consultation on the referendum question, and says it will publish responses and its own decision by the end of the summer.
If SNP ministers refuse to accept a single question by the end of September, there will be questions over whether Mr Cameron could opt to take control of the referendum by pushing through legislation at Westminster.
Responding to the YouGov poll, Mr Cameron added last night: “What matters most is that Scotland gets the chance to settle the separation question once and for all. Whilst this poll is pleasing, we need to let Scotland have its say.”
But a spokesman for the SNP compared the poll to another YouGov survey from last May, which was even less favourable. He said: “Support for independence is higher than when the SNP won our landslide election victory last year, and the gap with support for the Union has narrowed by five points.
“We are confident the majority of people in Scotland prefer home rule with independence to Tory rule from Westminster, and we are confident of achieving a Yes vote in autumn 2014.”
The poll also reinforces the gap in voting intention between Westminster and Holyrood, with Labour now ahead of the SNP on Westminster voting intentions to 14 points, up from just five points compared to a YouGov poll in May.
Labour is on 43 per cent, up three from May. The SNP is now on 29 per cent, down six. The Tories are up one point to 15 per cent, while the Lib Dems are up two points to 7 per cent.
The SNP and Labour’s roles are reversed for voting at Holyrood, where the latest polls show the SNP is now some 15 points ahead of Labour, and has easily held the gains it won at last year’s Holyrood election.
The Fabian Society last night claimed the poll showed the SNP had already “blown it” in the independence contest.
Daniel Johnson, co-ordinator of the Scottish Fabians, said: “It looks like the SNP has blown it. A clear majority of Scots now oppose separation.”
Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran MP said: “This tells us what is clear when you talk to people across Scotland – Alex Salmond and the SNP are failing to convince Scots with their arguments on separation”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson MSP added: “This poll provides further proof that Alex Salmond is losing the argument on separation.”