SUPPORT for the SNP has risen to an all-time high and Alex Salmond's popularity has increased, while Labour's decline in Scotland has continued, according to the latest survey.

An Ipsos MORI poll shows that 51% of those certain to vote would back the SNP in an election to the Scottish Parliament, up two percentage points from its last poll in August and six points from May's election.

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said the figure was "sensational".

Support for Labour stands at 26%, down two points from the group's August poll, while backing for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats remains largely unchanged, at 12% and 8% respectively.

The poll shows the SNP's lead over Labour is particularly strong among men, where the nationalists have a 37-point lead, and those in rural areas, where they are 30 points ahead.

Mr Salmond also continues to rate well, with three in five voters (62%) satisfied with his performance as First Minister compared to 27% who say they are dissatisfied, giving him a net satisfaction rating of plus 35%, up one point from the last poll in April.

Ipsos MORI says the problem for the new Conservative and LibDem leaders is recognition.

More than half, 57%, could not say whether or not they were satisfied with new Conservative leader Ruth Davidson as she is not yet well known enough.

This includes 48% of Conservative supporters, suggesting that many of the party's backers have yet to make their minds up about her leadership.

Similarly, 52% of voters could not comment on LibDem leader Willie Rennie.

Mark Diffley, research director at Ipsos MORI, said the results rounded off a memorable year for the SNP and added there were "no signs yet of a significant challenge from any of the three main opposition parties".

He added: "Once all three new leaders are firmly embedded it will be interesting to see if any of the opposition parties can recover."

Ms Sturgeon said: "We are moving into new territory and six points up from the 45% of Scottish voters who backed the SNP at the election.

"The SNP now have more support than all the other parties added together.

"Our support and momentum is continuing to climb as we keep moving Scotland forward by delivering our ambitious programme for Government.

"The SNP now has the support of more than half the electorate, and there is growing support for Scotland having the full range of job-creating powers we need to boost jobs and recovery, protecting NHS frontline services and becoming an equal and independent country."

A Labour Party spokesman said: "The SNP might be ahead in this poll, but the SNP remains completely incapable of translating that into support for its flagship policy of separation.

"Scottish Labour is more determined than ever to win back the trust of Scots again and learn the lessons of our defeat. Having undergone the most radical and wide-ranging review into the way our Party is organised in decades we are already changing, and once the new Scottish Labour leader is announced next Saturday the fight-back will begin."

The poll results were based on a telephone survey between December 1 and December 4 of 1001 respondents.