NICOLA Sturgeon is viewed as the most ruthless and arrogant major party leader in Britain, according to a new poll.

The Lord Ashcroft survey asked voters to select three words from a list of 20 that they most closely associate with the leaders of the four largest parties at Westminster, as well as foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

Almost a quarter - 24 per cent from a huge sample of 8,000 - chose 'arrogant' to describe Ms Sturgeon, compared to 20 per cent for second-placed Mr Johnson, who led the charge to leave the EU and has previously compared himself to figures including Winston Churchill and James Bond.

She also narrowly came out of top in the ruthless category, pipping Ms May by one per cent. Just four per cent described the First Minister as likeable, with 12 per cent choosing 'smug' as one of their options.

The results fit with a pattern of Ms Sturgeon's declining popularity at UK level, after she rose to prominence south of the border with impressive showings in TV debates ahead of last year's general election. A poll conducted in April last year showed that among men and women, across all age groups and in every nation and region covering Scotland, England and Wales, the First Minister had highest net approval rating of any UK party leader.

However, while Ms Sturgeon and her party have remained popular in Scotland, more recent surveys have suggested a honeymoon period after taking over from Alex Salmond is wearing off. A YouGov poll last week saw Ms Sturgeon record an impressive plus-20 approval rating, but she was beaten into second place by Ruth Davidson for the first time ever, with the Scottish Tory leader ranker at plus-21 with Scottish voters.

The UK-wide Ashcroft survey, conducted between August 11 and 22, showed that some voters respect the First Minister even if they don't like her. 38 per cent described her as determined, behind Ms May on 54 per cent but well ahead of Mr Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron.

A third chose 'stands up for their country', more than any other of the leaders they were asked about, with just three per cent describing Ms Sturgeon as weak.

Elsewhere in the survey, it was revealed that 42 per cent of SNP voters believe the UK Government should prioritise controlling immigration over gaining access to the single market in a post-Brexit deal with Europe, compared to 39 per cent who said maintaining trade is more important.

However, it emerged that among a weighted Scottish sub-sample, 54 per cent would vote for the SNP in a new general election, an increase even on last year's landslide.

SNP MP Pete Wishart said: "This polling was conducted during a tumultuous time in UK politics following the EU referendum, and shows voters have confidence in the leadership shown by Nicola Sturgeon and the wider party.

"With Theresa May and her cabinet struggling to set out a clear or coherent plan for Brexit, and Labour more intent on pressing the self-destruct button, it is only the SNP who have provided leadership in these uncertain times."