The SNP are set to narrowly miss out on a majority at the Scottish parliament, according to a new Holyrood election poll.
The Savanta ComRes survey predicts that the party will return 63 MSPs in total – two short of a majority, and the same number as in 2016.
However, there would still be a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, with the Scottish Greens forecast to return eight MSPs, two more than 2016, with the party predicted to secure 7 per cent of the list vote.
But the failure to land a SNP majority would allow Boris Johnson and union-backing parties to argue that nothing substantial had changed in the make-up of the parliament to merit another referendum.
The Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman also found a majority of Scots in favour of remaining in the union. Some 52 per cent would vote ‘No’ in an independence referendum and 48 per cent said they would vote ‘Yes’, when “don’t knows” are excluded.
The latest YouGov survey has also found support for independence slipping – down two points at 47 per cent since the company’s last poll. Support for remaining part of the UK is up at 53 per cent.
Only 1 per cent of Scottish voters have said they plan to vote for Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, which would leave it without a single MSP elected.
Mr Salmond vowed to be a “daily” annoyance to Ms Sturgeon, should he or any other Alba candidates manage to win seats. Mr Salmond said his party would push an SNP government to “get on with” independence negotiations immediately.
As Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar prepares to launch his manifesto on Thursday, he will be disappointed that his party is forecast to return 21 MSPs, three fewer than in 2016, according to the Savanta ComRes poll.
The YouGov poll found Mr Sarwar’s personal popularity had surged over the past six weeks. The proportion of voters who believe he is doing a good job has climbed from 18 per cent to 39 per cent since the start of March.
However, the Scottish Tories would comfortably remain the second largest party in the Scottish parliament, according to the latest poll numbers.
Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta ComRes, said there were “still plenty of routes” for the SNP to get a potentially game-changing majority at the 6 May vote. “That could be easier said than done, though,” Mr Hopkins added.
“With the Conservatives up in this poll, and a healthy proportion of Labour voters more likely to trust the Conservatives than their own party to protect the union, the Conservatives will also be trying to squeeze Labour in an attempt to hold off an SNP challenge.”