A poll showing almost half the Tory candidates thought most likely to become the next generation of Conservative MPs, are "not uncomfortable" with the idea of an independent Scotland was hailed by the SNP last night as a boost for the nationalist cause and an embarrassment for the Tories in Scotland.

The snapshot conducted by the Conservativehome.com website asked questions on a variety of subjects of 144 election candidates in what it regarded as the 220 most winnable seats for the Westminster opposition party across the UK.

The 2010 intake of the likeliest candidates to become the next generation of Conservative MPs was asked which of two statements came closest to their own view: some 54% backed the "Union should be defended at all costs" but 46% said they would "not be uncomfortable about Scotland becoming independent".

Stewart Hosie, the SNP chief whip at Westminster, told The Herald: "This is a fillip to our cause and we welcome the poll findings.

"The Tories are clearly split with the party down south relaxed about independence, while their colleagues in the Scottish Parliament don't even want voters to have their say in a referendum on Scotland's future.

"The survey also suggests a real resignation amongst Conservatives that they have no hope of making progress in Scotland at the next election."

However, David Mundell, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, dismissed the snapshot, saying: "I don't think this was a scientific poll. I don't attach any weight to it.

"David Cameron has made his position clear on the Union. He is committed to being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not just any single part of it, and he has been very clear that he would not do anything to damage the Union. I'm sure that is the prevailing view in the party."

Polls on Scottish independence have tended to concentrate on voters in Scotland and have varied depending on which particular question is asked.

The SNP leadership often insists that the mood is gradually swinging its way while the Unionist parties maintain the figures consistently show a large majority for keeping Scotland as part of the UK.

An example of getting different results from different questions came last month when the BBC conducted a poll of around 1000 adults north of the border.

When asked how they would vote in an independence referendum some 54% said they were not in favour of an independent Scotland while 38% said they were.

However, when the same people were asked, what is thought to be the Nationalists' preferred referendum question, about whether they agreed or disagreed that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the UK Government so that Scotland can become an independent state, the numbers narrowed with some 42% in favour and 50% against.

Meanwhile, a Lords Committee today calls on Gordon Brown to scrap the Barnett Formula, the 30-year system of allocating extra spending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when departmental expenditure increases in England.

The membership of the committee set up to look at Barnett included Lord Lawson, the former Conservative Chancellor, ex-Labour minister Lord Sewel and previous Tory Scottish Secretaries Lords Forsyth and Lang.

Their report brands the formula "arbitrary and unfair" and says it should be replaced by a system that recognises changing population levels and the differing economic needs of the devolved nations.

Lord Richard, the committee chairman, said: "When we considered a range of indicators of need, it became clear Wales and Northern Ireland have greater needs per head of population than Scotland and England.

"The current allocations made through the formula give Scotland more funds per head of population than appears justified when compared to Wales and Northern Ireland and their needs,"

he added.