VOTERS are driven towards the SNP when their opponents bring up the issue of independence, according to the preliminary findings of a new study.

Research by the European University Institute conducted at the University of Edinburgh saw a group of participants read party leaders' statements supporting the SNP, Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Another group read the same arguments, but with an additional paragraph on Scottish independence. They were then quizzed on their voting intentions.

The online survey, which involved 200 participants most of whom were students at the university and were all registered to vote in Scotland, found that those in the second group were more likely to support the nationalists.

Among the first group, around 24 per cent said they would vote SNP, while among the second, it rose to 37 per cent. Just over 30 per cent of those in the first group said they would vote Labour, compared to 19 per cent in the second. The difference became even more stark among those who identify as Scottish or equally Scottish and British.

Davide Morisi, researcher at the European University Institute, said: "The results from this study indicate that framing the electoral competition in direct opposition to the SNP can be counter-productive for the main Westminster parties, since the support for the SNP increases instead of decreasing.

"Making Scottish independence a salient issue penalises particularly Labour, because voters perceive it as closer to the other unionist parties, therefore they are more likely to cast their vote for other parties.

"Moreover, the fact that Labour voters become more favourable towards a separated Scotland when their party takes an explicit unionist positions indicates a growing discrepancy between the Labour and its Scottish supporters.

"These trends suggest that reconciling a 'Scottish Labour' with a 'British Labour' might prove an extremely complicated task especially in the case of an unfavourable electoral outcome for the Labour."

However, it was warned that the sample group was not representative of the Scottish public in general, meaning the results should not be seen as necessarily reflecting general trends in the electorate.