Support for independence is at 51 per cent, according to a new poll.

The SavantaComRes poll, in partnership with The Scotsman, paints a "virtually unchanged picture", say pollsters, with findings showing the SNP are on course for a majority at the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.

On the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country, the poll found that 51% would vote ‘yes’ tomorrow, 38% would vote ‘no’ and 10% said they did not know.

Not counting the 'undecided' votes, support for independence rises to 57%, with 43% against.

The results come from a total of 1,016 Scottish adults aged 16 or over, who were surveyed online between January 8 and 13.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic has led to an "improved perception" of the First Minister.

A total 22 per cent of voters – of which 37 per cent voted for Scottish Labour and 13 per cent voted Scottish Conservative in 2019 – now say they are “more likely” to vote for the SNP due to the handling of the pandemic.

Pollsters found that 59% of those surveyed now have a more positive view of the First Minister now than they did before the pandemic began.

Elsewhere, the poll suggests that other parties are struggling to persuade voters to switch sides, with 19, 21 and 15 per cent of voters saying they were “more likely” to vote for the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats with regard to their handling of the pandemic.

Support for the Scottish Conservatives has fallen to the lowest level for almost five years, the poll suggests.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ support in the constituency vote remained consistent at 6%, with an increase of one percentage point for list voting intentions, up to 8%.

The Scottish Greens’ support in the list voting intention has dropped slightly, down from 12% to 11% since the last Savanta ComRes poll in December.

Voters are also increasingly impressed by Ms Sturgeon’s personal characteristics, such as whether she appears intelligent (76%, up from 73%), strong (74%, up from 71%) and genuine (57%, up from 55%).

However opinions on the personal traits of the other main party leaders Douglas Ross and Richard Leonard remain “virtually static”, Chris Hopkins, the political research director at Savanta ComRes, said.

He added: “What appears most interesting here is that the ceiling for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP could be even higher than the already-strong figures in the headline voting intention.

“Our data shows that Sturgeon’s management of the pandemic has improved her reputation among significant chunks of 2019 Labour and Conservative voters, and the SNP’s response to the crisis has led recent Labour voters to consider the SNP in May.

“Despite this, the state of the parties in Scotland looks much the same this month as it did last, and perhaps that’s a reflection of the fact that while the pandemic continues to dominate the news agenda, there is little time for the usual overt pre-election electioneering.

“There are some slightly improved numbers here for Labour, but that looks primarily down to Keir Starmer, as metrics relating to Scottish Labour and Richard Leonard have barely shifted.

READ MORE: Independent Scotland could be ‘top of the list’ to join the European Union

“Holding on to the voters that appear to be flirting with the SNP, impressed by their response and their leader’s management of the pandemic, will be imperative if Labour hope to beat the Conservatives into second place.”

SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “An 18th poll in a row showing support for Scotland’s right to choose its future underlines that it is becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland.

“The SNP will take nothing for granted and will continue to work every day to defend and promote the interests of Scotland.

“People in Scotland have the right to decide their own future, instead of a Boris Johnson-led Tory Government which has imposed a disastrous hard Brexit in the middle of a pandemic.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “This welcome poll is the latest in a long line that suggests the Scottish Greens can return a record number of MSPs in May.

“It’s clear that the public appreciate the constructive approach to opposition adopted by the Green MSPs, which has seen us punch well above our weight in Parliament and deliver bold and transformative policies.

“We’ll continue to work constructively, pushing the Government to build a fairer, greener Scotland.”

A previous poll from The Scotsman/Savanta ComRes, published in December 2020, reported similar findings that the SNP are on course for a comfortable majority at next year's Holyrood election. 

It found 58 per cent of voters intended to back Yes, with 42% voting No, once don't knows are excluded. 

With don't knows included, 52% backed Yes and 38% No.

Meanwhile, 40% of voters thought a second independence referendum should happen within the next two years. 

The poll found 15% thought five years should pass before another vote, while 6% wanted to wait a decade and 12% believed it should be longer. 

Just 16% said there should not be a referendum at all.