ANEW opinion poll shows the SNP with its biggest lead over Labour since the Scottish Parliament was set up.

The surge, which puts the Nationalists seven points clear of its ruling rival on the vital constituency test, is published today on the eve of the Scottish Labour conference.

For the first time in recent history, the poll puts the SNP on course to have a clear lead in its projected share of seats, overcoming the bias from the distribution of votes reckoned to give JackMcConnell's party a built-in advantage of roughly eight MSPs.

The poll was commissioned from YouGov by the SNP itself, less than six months from the next Holyrood vote. YouGov has found Alex Salmond's party is pulling in support from Labour and from the collapse of support for divided far-left factions.

According to its sample of more than 1000 Scots, the SNP has moved decisively ahead of the average support it has registered in polls this year, on 36-per cent. Labour has fallen back to 29-per cent following months of negative news about war, internal tensions, and cash-for-peerages.

A parallel poll last April, also bought by the party, showed the SNP 10 points behind its current position, and Labour one point ahead, making a four-point gap in Labour's favour.

On the constituency vote, Conservatives continue to flatline, at the same 14-per cent share YouGov has found twice this year. This is despite the boost the party has had in England, where it now consistently leads Labour.

LibDems stand at 16-per cent, which would do nothing to enhance the negotiating leverage of leader Nicol Stephen and undermines his claim that he could be next First Minister.

On the regional vote, the good news for the SNP continues. This is where it lost many votes to smaller parties in the 2003 election. Its support now puts it on 30-per cent, four points ahead of Labour. However, Labour relies on the regional vote for only four of its 50 seats at present.

Conservatives, on 15-per cent, are one point down on 2003, and two points up on the YouGov poll last April. LibDems are three points up on their last election share, and four points down on April.

While Greens are up one point, the SSP is down 4-per cent to only 3-per cent, making it likely it would lose all its seats. Tommy Sheridan's new party, Solidarity, registered only 1-per cent of the regional share.

The SNP has carried out its own analysis of how the votes could translate into seats. This would put the SNP on 49, up 23, and Labour on 36, down 14, with Conservatives down two on 16, LibDems retaining 17, Greens down one to six and the far left reduced from six to one.

John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University, said such an outcome would make it impossible for Labour to form a majority administration with the LibDems. The only credible twoparty pact would require Mr Salmond to turn to Mr Stephen.

The SNP leader said the poll was awful news for Labour. "The SNP now have steady momentum as Labour's support is disappearing like snow off a dyke, " he said.

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