DOUBTS that an independent Scotland would raise living standards and make the economy stronger are the main reason most Scots do not support breaking away from the United Kingdom, according to a major new survey published today.

A poll taken as part of the 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey shows 53% of Scots believe independence will result in higher taxes.

The annual survey by NatCen Social Research covers constitutional issues, welfare, immigration, the armed forces and other matters. It draws on polls from the past few years, and says support for independence remains a "minority preference" with no evidence of any long-term increase.

It says that while support for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom is at 32% – nine points up on the record low of 23% in 2010 – it is still lower than in 2005, when it stood at 35%. It also says only 51% of those who voted SNP in last year's Holyrood elections back a break with Britain.

Just over half, 53%, of those who describe themselves as "Scottish not British" support independence while 75% of those who back independence say the economy would be stronger if Scotland left the UK.

However, just 34% of the population believe the nation's economy would be stronger outside the UK, 29% say it would be weaker while 26% feel it would make no difference. Asked about the standard of living, 34% say it would be stronger with independence, 23% feel it would be weaker while 34% believe it would make no difference.

But while the survey shows most Scots are unconvinced independence will bring economic benefits, it says the balance of expectations across other areas is positive towards it.

For example, 67% said they would have more pride in their country if Scotland became independent and 51% said the nation would have a stronger voice in the world.

Nonetheless, economic issues seem to outweigh such views; a majority, 53%, believe independence would also mean higher taxes for Scots.

"While independence is far from being widely regarded as a wholly disastrous prospect, it would appear most people in Scotland have yet to be persuaded it would bring significant material benefits," notes the survey.

"Moreover, despite the generally favourable balance of opinion on some of the anticipated consequences of independence, the prospect of independence is widely regarded with a degree of unease," it says.

Asked how they would feel about Scotland's future as an independent state, 46% say they would be worried, 31% confident and 22% neither worried nor confident. "It would seem," the survey explains, "that above and beyond its anticipated specific consequences, independence is regarded as something of a risk by a substantial section of the population."

The figures also show more support for independence among the young than the old.

Some 42% of 18 to 24-year-olds support a break with Britain but only 24% of those aged 65 and over agree. Some 36% of men favour independence compared to 29% of women.

While support for independence is around one-third, that for devolution is 58%.

Scots feel Holyrood should decide on such domestic issues as health (66%); schools (62%); welfare (62%); and taxes (57%). But on defence and foreign affairs, 63% want Westminster in control.

The survey says such responses "give the impression 'devolution max' has majority support not because it is necessarily the single most popular option but rather because it is the one option around which both Nationalists and many Unionists can seemingly potentially coalesce".

However, different results emerged from last year's poll when Scots were asked about a range of constitutional options. Support broke down as follows:

l Independence: 43%

l Holyrood taking all decisions on domestic matters with Westminster retaining control of defence and foreign affairs – known as "devo max": 29%

l Status quo: 21%

l Return to pre-devolution arrangements, with Westminster making all the decisions: 5%.

The report acknowledges the contradictory findings on independence produced by the different questions, adding: "Evidently there is something of a puzzle to be unravelled here."

The pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign seized on the second set of results.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – responsible for the Scottish Government's independence campaign – said: "This positive survey is a big boost for Scotland, with 72% of people wanting more powers for our country. The survey shows 43% support for independence and the Scottish Parliament making all the decisions for Scotland – up 15 points on 2010. Becoming an independent nation is the most popular constitutional option."

A spokesman for the pro-UK Better Together campaign said: "No matter how the Nationalists try and dress this up, the simple fact is that, when asked the question about breaking up Britain, the majority of Scots say that they do not want it."

Scottish Labour's constitutional spokeswoman, Patricia Ferguson MSP, said that the survey was "further proof that the SNP are increasingly out of touch with the priorities of the Scottish people".