Scots would vote against independence by a wide margin if they were asked whether to leave or remain in the United Kingdom, a landmark poll has found.
The poll’s release comes as Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May are set for showdown talks, with the UK speeding towards an uncertain Brexit conclusion.
The First Minister will meet opposition leaders at Westminster today in a bid to build a united front against the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, promising a tense encounter with the Prime Minister in Downing Street.
However, the meeting depends on other political forces, with the threat of a possible vote of no-confidence by her own MPs continuing to hang over Mrs May.
Ms Sturgeon said last night: “Brexit must not be a false choice between the deal the Prime Minister has presented and the no-deal outcome which even members of her own Cabinet now say would be disastrous.”
The Survation poll, commissioned by a pro-Union group, found that if a referendum were held now, 60 per cent of Scottish voters aged 16 and over would choose to stay in the UK and just 40 per cent would choose to leave, once the don’t knows are removed.
Among voters aged 18 and over the margin is even wider, with 67 per cent voting to remain in the UK and just 33 per cent choosing to leave, again once don’t knows are removed.
The findings represent one of the highest levels of support for staying in the UK of any poll conducted since the 2014 referendum.
However, polls suggest Brexit could boost support for independence, particularly if there is a chaotic exit from the EU.
The margin in favour of staying in the UK narrows to 57-43 if the UK leaves the EU with a deal and is just 52-48 if the country leaves without a deal. A total of 31 per cent of respondents said UK membership of the EU was more important than Scotland remaining part of the UK, compared to 22 per cent who put the UK first and 36 per cent who said the two Unions were equally important.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, the campaign group that commissioned the poll, said: “This bombshell poll shows that a huge majority of Scots want to remain in the UK and are turned off by Nicola Sturgeon’s desperate attempts to use Brexit to break up Britain. Voters know that we are better off as part of the UK and it makes sense to remain with our oldest friends, neighbours and allies rather than divide us in the name of nationalism.
“The Nationalists will stop at nothing until Scotland is separated from the UK. That’s why they are weaponising Brexit in the hope of boosting support for independence.
“But our trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times our trade with the EU. Why put our economy and jobs at risk?”
Ms Nash added: “This poll reveals how the SNP’s tactics have backfired and shows that people in Scotland would vote to remain in the UK with or without a Brexit deal in place.
“However, we know the Nationalists won’t stop campaigning, so we need to continue campaigning as well to ensure the voices of the majority of Scots are heard.
“Whatever your views on Brexit, independence is not the answer.”
The SNP said the findings made clear that Brexit was forcing Scots to reconsider their place in the UK. “It’s clear that Brexit is drawing more and more people towards the opportunities of independence as Scotland’s interests continue to be sidelined by Westminster,” SNP depute leader Keith Brown said.
“And a majority are confident that an independent Scotland could take its place at Europe’s top table.
“With crucial days ahead as we hurtle towards Brexit, the SNP will continue to stand up to the Tories and fight for what’s best for Scotland’s future.”
As the Scottish Government prepares to restart the campaign for independence in earnest once the Brexit deal is settled, the findings will spark a debate about what question voters should be asked in any new referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.
Polling agency Survation used a wording based on the 2016 EU referendum, asking people how they would vote in response to the question “should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?”
In 2014, the Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and UK governments that set the terms for the independence referendum gave Holyrood control over the franchise and referendum question, on the understanding that voters would be presented with a single question.
David Cameron, the then-prime minister, is widely believed to have feared a two-question referendum preferred by Alex Salmond, asking voters whether they supported “devolution max” with sweeping new powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The existing UK government has said it would not grant permission under the Scotland Act for a new independence referendum.
Mrs May insists that voters made their choice in 2014 and, while the Brexit process is ongoing, “now is not the time” for more constitutional upheaval. However, last week the First Minister said she would unveil plans for a new push towards independence “in the not-too-distant future”.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice said the results showed most Scots want “the best of both worlds”, with greater political autonomy while remaining in the UK. The Survation poll also confirmed the SNP’s continued strength, with voters set to send more Nationalist MPs to Westminster in the event of a snap election.
Support for the SNP is at 39 per cent, up 2 per cent from the 2017 general election. The two main Unionist parties would lose ground compared with the last election, with the Conservatives on 26 per cent, down 2 per cent, and Labour on 24 per cent, down 3 per cent. The Liberal Democrats would pick up one point, putting them on 8 per cent.
Analysis by Professor Curtice suggests that result would give the SNP 42 MPs at Westminster, picking up five seats from Labour and two from the Conservatives. The Lib Dems would remain on four MPs.
Mr Brown said: “People are continuing to put their trust in the SNP to stand up for Scotland.
“We command a 13-point lead over the Tories, who are consumed by the complete and utter chaos of Brexit.
“And Labour aren’t seen as a credible alternative. That’s why they’re languishing even further.
“It seems this poll was commissioned by our opponents to land a political blow on the SNP, whereas it’s had the exact opposite effect. These figures make extremely encouraging reading for the independence movement while leaving the Tory and Labour parties extremely downhearted.”
Survation questioned 1,013 people online between 9-13 November.