Brexit has overtaken the economy to become the most important factor for Scots deciding whether to vote for independence, according to a new poll.

The survey for Progress Scotland found 43 per cent of voters now cite Brexit as one of their top three issues, just ahead of the economy and the NHS (both 42%).

The salience of Brexit is in stark contrast to the public mood at the 2014 referendum.

The same poll found voters then ranked EU membership as their sixth most
important issue (cited by 22% as a top three consideration), with the economy the most important (46%), followed by the NHS (41%), where decisions are made (30%), jobs (27%), and tax (23%).

However the Survation survey of more than 2,000 people also found support for independence was relatively soft, compared to an entrenched backing for the Union.

Only 24% of people said they completely supported leaving the UK, while 40% said they completely supported staying part of it. 

Among the 351 people who said they were undecided about independence, almost half thought Brexit would harm Scotland’s economy and two-thirds said it made independence more likely, with 45% saying it had changed their personal opinion on independence. 

If there was a no deal, 56% of undecideds said it would make them more likely to vote Yes.

The poll was the first piece of research from Progress Scotland, which was set up by former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson and pollster Mark Diffley.

Mr Diffley said that with Brexit dominating UK politics since the Leave vote of June 2016, it was unsurprising it could have a “pivotal role” in a future independence vote.

He said: “The poll provides further evidence of how the issue of the EU might impact on voters who have no firm position on the independence question.

“The poll suggests that this cohort of ‘open-minded’ Scots has both strong views on the EU and is reassessing its views on independence in light of the Brexit debate.”

Mr Robertson, Progress Scotland MD, added: “This is just the beginning of our work, which over time will allow us to better understand an ever-growing number of people in Scotland who are open-minded towards independence.”

SNP depute leader Keith Brown said it showed “people are increasingly concerned that they face being taken out of the EU against their will and are open to changing their view on independence as a result”.

However Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said the research had inadvertently revealed the strength of support for remaining in the UK.

She said: “Forty per cent of voters completely support remaining in the UK, compared to only 24 per cent who completely support leaving the UK, while large numbers who voted Yes in 2014 have now changed their minds.

“Unsurprisingly, Brexit is a key issue for voters. So while this poll is very encouraging, it must also serve as a reminder that those of us who believe in solidarity and oppose nationalism must continue fighting for Scotland’s place in the UK.”

Meanwhile, one of the SNP’s own MPs has admitted his party has “pressed pause” on independence, confirming the suspicions of many in the Yes movement.

In a pointed swipe at Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, Angus Brendan MacNeil said it was now time to “pivot away” from Brexit and focus on Scotland leaving the UK.

The Western Isles MP has previously warned his party not to dither on its goal.
On Wednesday, he also defied Ms Sturgeon and the SNP whip to abstain on the idea of a second EU referendum when it was put in an indicative vote in the Commons.

He and Perthshire MP Peter Wishart refused to back a People’s Vote in case it set a precedent that could be used to overturn a future Yes vote on independence.

Mr MacNeil made his latest criticism on the Alex Salmond Show on RT. 

Asked by presenter Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh if the SNP was campaigning harder for a People’s Vote than an independence vote at the moment, Mr MacNeil said: “The way I’d like to put it is the SNP have perhaps pressed pause a little bit when it comes to independence and are pushing the revocation [of Article 50] or a People’s Vote a little bit more, and the emphasis has been on that. But I think it’s time for the SNP to pivot away from that. It’s time for Scotland to get out and to be in the safety we see Ireland in, or Denmark in, and be an independent country.”

Survation questioned 2,041 adults on their views between March 15 and 21.