A NEW poll suggests Nicola Sturgeon’s time to hold a second referendum is fast running out, with a Unionist majority predicted at Holyrood after the next Scottish election.

The YouGov survey for The Times found the pro-independence SNP and Greens would lose their majority in 2021, with the three Unionist parties in the ascendant.

It said the SNP would still be the largest party, making it likely Ms Sturgeon could lead a fourth Nationalist government, but also that it would lose seats to every other party.

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The poll predicted the SNP would fall from 63 MSPs to 53, while the Tories would get 33 MSPs (up 2 on 2017), Labour 27 (up 3), the LibDems 6 (up 1) and the Greens 10 (up 4).

The numbers point to a total of 63 MSPs for the pro-independence SNP and Greens, two short of a majority in the 129-seat chamber. The arithmetic would allow Labour, the Tories and LibDems to block a referendum, as they did in the 2007-11 parliament, when Alex Salmond ran a minority SNP government.

Ms Sturgeon is due to tell MSPs this autumn - the halfway point of the current parliament - whether she intends to push for a second independence referendum because of Brexit.

She has said she has a “cast iron mandate” to hold another vote, given Scotland faces being dragged out the EU despite Scots voting 62-38 to Remain in 2016.

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However the poll found the Brexit issue has failed to move voters in Ms Sturgeon’s direction.

A majority of Scots remain opposed both to holding a referendum and to independence.

Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University said the First Minister was “on the horns of a dilemma” having “failed to make any discernible progress” in winning over voters.

He said: “Winning a referendum any time soon still looks like a tall order. The clock is ticking away towards 2021.

“Ms Sturgeon finds herself facing a tough choice this autumn: hold a referendum this year, but risk losing - or delay, and so perhaps pass up the chance of ever holding one at all.”

The survey of 1,002 adults found Westminster voting intention for the SNP was 36 per cent (down 4 points on the last YouGov poll in October), for Labour it was 28 per cent (-2), the Tories were unchanged on 23, and the Liberal Democrats were on 6 (+1).

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The seat projections on those numbers suggest the SNP would win less than half the seats in Scotland at the next general election.

Ms Sturgeon’s party would have 27 of the country’s 59 MPs (down 8 on June’s election), Labour 17 (+10), the Tories 11 (-2), with the LibDems unchanged on 4.

For Holyrood, constituency voting intentions were: SNP 38 per cent (-4 on October), Tories 26 (+1), Labour 23 (-1), LibDems 7 (+2), Greens 3 (+1).

While for the Holyrood list vote it was: SNP 32 per cent (-3), Tories 25 (+2), Labour 22 (-2), Greens 10 (+4), LibDems 7 (+1).

The poll also asked Scots about independence and voting on the issue again.  

It found 57 per cent (+1 on October) opposed independence, with 43 (-1) in favour.

Asked if there should be another independence referendum in the next five years, 54 per cent (+2) said No, 36 per cent said Yes (-3), with 10 per cent undecided (+1).

Asked if there should be a referendum after the Brexit negotiations but before the UK leaves the EU, 51 per cent said No (+1), 35 Yes (-2) and 15 undecided (+2).

After if there should be a referendum after Brexit, 47 per cent (+2) said Yes, 36 per cent No (-2) and 17 per cent undecided (+1).

The poll also found a reversal for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

His approval rating was down 23 points to -3, with 43 per cent of people saying he is performing badly, compared to 40 per cent saying he was doing well.

His approval rating had been +20 only three months ago.

However Theresa May was massively less popular, with 68 per cent of Scots disapproving of her performance compared to 21 per cent approving, making -47 overall (-2 on October).

Ms Sturgeon’s neutral rating was unchanged, with 43 per cent of people both approving and disapproving of the way she is doing her job, and 13 per cent unsure.

Scottish Tory leader had the highest rating, with 45 per cent approving of her performance, compared to 30 per cent disapproving, a net rating of +15.

Meanwhile Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour leader since November, remains an unknown quantity, with 60 per cent of Scots unable to give a view on his performance.

His overall approval rating among those who did was -15.

Derek Mackay, for the SNP, said: “The fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against our will, with all of the damage that will cause to jobs and our economy, underlines the need for Scotland to control our own future.

Independence would allow us to do so, and support for an independent Scotland, across a range of polls, remains at historically high levels."

Donald Cameron, for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "These figures confirm that there is absolutely no appetite for another referendum on independence."

A Labour spokesman said: “It is clear that Scots are getting increasingly fed up of the SNP constitutional fixation and their failures in government."

A Scottish Green spokesman added: “We’re determined to make Scotland fairer, and it seems voters recognise that Greens get things done while other parties posture.”

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Pamela Nash, Chief Executive of Scotland in Union, which opposes a second referendum, said: "It's time Nicola Sturgeon faced facts - the people of Scotland simply don’t want another referendum and the more she tries to force one, the more unpopular she becomes.

"The SNP Government has tried everything to exploit the uncertainty of Brexit and if anything, public opinion is hardening against indyref2

"The message today is clear - the rest of the country has moved on. By ignoring public opinion, she increasingly resembles the Japanese soldier in WW2, still fighting a war that’s already been long lost."