THE SNP is still on course to win a majority at May’s Holyrood election – despite a dip in support for independence and Nicola Sturgeon's leadership, a new poll has suggested.

The study, conducted by Ipsos Mori in partnership with STV, has found that 52 per cent of people would vote Yes in an independence referendum and 48% would vote No – but support for breaking up the Union has slipped from 56% in November.

No data has been provided for 'don’t knows' undecided voters on independence – but the study asked “those who would be likely to vote in an independence referendum”.

Ipsos Mori interviewed a representative sample of 1,031 adults aged 16+ across Scotland.

The research found that 52% are likely to vote for the SNP in the constituency vote at May’s election, 23% indicated they will vote for the Scottish Conservatives and 15% for Labour. The latest polling for Holyrood puts the SNP down three points compared to November, but both Labour and the Tories have gained a single point over the last three months.

The poll projects that the SNP will scoop up 72 of Holyrood’s 129 seats – adding nine to their current total and giving them a majority of 15 in the Scottish Parliament.

According to the research, the Tories would win 26 seats, Scottish Labour would secure 17 MSPs, the Scottish Greens would win nine seats and five would go to the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The study indicated there are signs that the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the accusations against Alex Salmond is starting to impact on voters’ perceptions of the SNP - with more than one third (36%) saying the inquiry has made them less favourable towards the party, but most (58%) say the episode has not altered their view of the party.

Of those asked who voted SNP at the last general election, one in five (21%) say the Alex Salmond fiasco has made them less favourable towards the SNP.

Nicola Sturgeon remains the highest rated party leader, according to the Ipsos Mori poll – but the percentage satisfied with the First Minister has dropped from 72% in October to 64%. She now has a net satisfaction rate of plus 32.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has a net satisfaction rating of minus 12 with 28% satisfied with his leadership, an increase of 22% in October.

More than half of Scots (56%) said the UK Government should agree for a second referendum to take place within the next five years if the SNP does secure a Holyrood majority – with 41% said permission should not be given.

If the UK Government does not allow a re-run of the 2014 independence vote to take place even if the SNP wins a majority, 42% said the Scottish Government should accept that a referendum cannot be held in the next five years unless the UK Government changes its mind.

A third of those asked (34%) said the Scottish Government should take the UK Government to court to try and establish a legal basis for holding a referendum, while 18% said the Scottish Government should hold another referendum without the UK Government’s consent.

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “This latest poll from Ipsos Mori and STV News shows a fall in support for independence, and a corresponding increase in support for staying in the Union – though Yes still has a four-point lead over No.

“That’s important for Scotland’s political parties, since independence is the top issue voters say will help them make up their minds about which party to vote for in May’s Holyrood elections.

“At this point the SNP look on course to win a majority of seats, but the next few weeks are set to be challenging for the party, with the Salmond inquiry ongoing – and our poll shows that this issue has started to cut through with Scottish voters.”

The SNP said that the poll shows the party is within reach of securing a Holyrood majority in May.

SNP deputy leader, Keith Brown, said: “This poll shows that voters in Scotland are continuing to put their trust in the SNP, ahead of the Westminster parties, to lead Scotland’s recovery.

“The people of Scotland want to have their say on Scotland’s future in a post-pandemic referendum, and the clearest way to secure that opportunity is with an SNP majority in May.

“While today’s findings are encouraging, they underline the importance of Both Votes SNP at the election to stop Boris Johnson’s Tory party having the whip hand over Scotland."

He added: “It is up to the people who live and work here to decide Scotland’s future, not Westminster governments we didn’t vote for.

“The SNP take nothing for granted and will continue to work tirelessly for every single vote ahead of 6th May.”

A Scottish Conservatives spokesman said: "At the same stage in 2016, the polls put us on lower numbers than these, but we stopped an SNP majority. As Scotland's largest opposition party, we can do so again in May's election.

“Pro-UK voters know we are the only party with the strength and determination to stop another damaging and divisive independence referendum. 

“Only the Scottish Conservatives can prevent an SNP majority, stop Indyref2 and get the Scottish Parliament 100% focussed on rebuilding Scotland.”