Why are new polls showing less support for independence - and a loss of trust in Nicola Sturgeon?

More than 20 consecutive polls showed more Scots wanted to leave the UK than wanted to stay.

READ MORE: Here's how support for independence has changed in five years

But that changed in the week between Alex Salmond putting the metaphorical knife into his former pupil... and Nicola Sturgeon returning the favour with her former teacher.

So here are five reasons I believe are behind that reversal of fortune - all of them to do with reputation and communication.

1. SNP unity shattered 

For approaching 14 years, the Scottish National Party has run the Scottish Government.

MSPs were tightly controlled in what they said publicly - with legendary discipline.

But when Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon fell out, it was like Muhammad Ali stepping into the ring with Joe Frazier.


Two political heavyweights were set to slug it out in public.

Supporters were forced to choose whom they believed.

2. Loss of Trust in Alex Salmond 

Former FM Alex Salmond won two court cases.

First proving the SNP government had bungled an inquiry into his behaviour.

Then being found not guilty of 12 charges - ranging from attempted rape to breach of the peace - with not proven on another.

His QC was recorded on a train saying his client could be seen as a “sex pest” and “bully”.

Even those who had wished to see Mr Salmond walk free were left in doubt about his character. 

3. Loss of Trust in Nicola Sturgeon 

Scotland’s First Minister’s approval rating soared during the pandemic with her popularity in Scotland far beyond that of PM Boris Johnson.

She demonstrated superb communication skills at daily Covid briefings – handling every question asked.

READ MORE: How does Nicola Sturgeon's evidence relate to the ministerial code? Legal expert shares analysis

A majority of Scots supported her leadership - until her former friend Alex Salmond accused her inner circle of working against him.

As Mr Salmond put it: “even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.

If coming from opposition parties, it would be a stunning allegation.

But to come from her former “best friend” and SNP legend, it took on the character of a Putin-esque plot.

4. Unconvincing marathon performance 

Ms Sturgeon started brightly on the front foot at the Holyrood Salmond inquiry.

But three things indicated she was struggling at times: Firstly, some answers were taken for a walk in the park - down a side street – then up a blind alley...as she spread her words across subordinate clauses, until any clear meaning was lost.


Secondly, she repeatedly answered “I don’t know” or “ I can’t recall”...or some other variation – on at least 50 occasions.

Thirdly – she created the headline she wanted to avoid: “I had no reason to want to get Alex Salmond”

5. A new balance of power 

The political see-saw has tilted again - because Mr Salmond is on one end of it and Ms Sturgeon is on the other.

So voters approaching the May 6th election will have one more choice before casting their vote.

Do they back Sturgeon or Salmond?

Already the polls are demonstrating the effects of that choice.

So what do we learn from all this?

• Organisation can speak with only one voice

• Once a reputation is damaged, it may be irreparable

• If specific allegations are laid against the leader, they must be accepted or proven wrong…or they linger

• The current leader must out-perform the greatest scrutiny – or support will wane

• Once an organisation is split, it needs to rebuild to become effective again

Bill McFarlan is co-founder and co-owner of Glasgow-based communication firm Pink Elephant Communications.