Support for Scottish independence has continued to slide in the country, according to an exclusive YouGov poll for Sky News, with 46% backing an exit from the UK compared to 54% who want to remain part of the union.
Support is even lower when those who answered “don’t know” are included in the statistics – making it just 39% in favour of independence and 47% against.
But either way, the results show the support for the SNP’s leading mission has dropped compared to last month, when a poll of polls showed 50% backed leaving the UK.
The survey also revealed that, regardless of their view on independence, 52% of the public believed Scotland would still be part of the UK in 10 years’ time.
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The polling was pretty evenly split on the performance of the Scottish government, with 44% thinking they were doing a good job and 46% deeming its performance bad.
But there seemed to be agreement that where the SNP administration had underperformed was in its handling of the NHS, with 62% saying it was doing badly on health.
The figures come as voting opens for SNP members to choose Nicola Sturgeon’s successor at the top of the party and as the new first minister of Scotland.
And they come just hours ahead of Sky News’ leadership debate at 7pm, which will see the three candidates – Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan – face questions from our political editor Beth Rigby live in Edinburgh.
All three have pledged to continue the fight for independence – the driving force of the SNP’s political agenda.
When it came to the runners, the poll – which collected the views of 1,002 people online over the weekend – showed finance secretary Ms Forbes to be the most popular, with 27% saying she would be a good first minister.
A total of 22% said the same about health secretary Mr Yousaf and 14% thought positively of ex-minister Ms Regan.
But all three recorded higher figures when it came to those who thought they would be a bad leader of the country – 44% for Mr Yousaf, 39% for Ms Regan and 36% for Ms Forbes.
And most thought they would be worse at the top job than the outgoing Ms Sturgeon, with just 17% thinking Ms Forbes would do better, 8% thinking Ms Regan would be an improvement and 6% thinking Mr Yousaf would be an upgrade.
However, Ms Forbes got the highest figures for those who thought she would be a strong leader at 28%, competent at 37% and trustworthy at 30%.
And Mr Yousaf had the highest figures for the negative traits, with 39% saying he would be a weak leader, 40% saying he would be incompetent and 42% saying he was untrustworthy.
Ms Regan appeared to be the least known entity, with around 60% of respondents answering “don’t know” when asked the same questions about her.
The winner of the contest will be announced on 27 March.
The Sky News SNP debate airs at 7pm tonight.
Viewers will be able to watch live and for free on Freeview channel 233, Sky channel 501, Virgin 603, BT 313, as well as on the Sky News YouTube channel and on the Sky News App and website.
There will also be further insight and analysis in the Politics Hub and on Sky News’ social channels (TikTok, Instagram and Twitter) and podcasts.