NICOLA Sturgeon is on course to win a majority at the Holyrood election on Thursday, a new poll for The Herald has found.

The exclusive poll by BMG Research suggests the SNP is set to win 68 seats, while the independence question is neck and neck. 

Projections by polling expert Professor John Curtice also show Alex Salmond's Alba Party picking up two seats, once the regional distribution of its support is taken into account. 

This could include the former first minister making a dramatic return to Holyrood as an MSP for North East Scotland, although the sample size involved here is very small.

Meanwhile, the Greens would pick up nine seats – meaning the next Scottish Parliament would have 79 pro-independence MSPs out of 129.

However, the projected SNP majority remains on a knife-edge. 

The latest poll also shows a dramatic split on the independence question, with both Yes and No at 50 per cent, once undecideds are removed.

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The Herald:

This is a slight fall from BMG's poll for The Herald in March, which found 52% backing Yes and 48% backing No, but is still higher than other recent polls. 

It comes as Scotland's political parties enter their last few days of campaigning ahead of Thursday's election. 

The Scottish Conservatives have made preventing an SNP majority one of their central messages. 

Yesterday, party leader Douglas Ross insisted voting for the Tories on the list "is the only way to be sure of stopping an SNP majority and indyref2". 

He said: "Only by using your peach ballot for the Scottish Conservatives can you guarantee that the next Scottish Parliament will be 100% focused on recovering from Covid."

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to give both votes to the SNP "to secure experienced leadership with Scotland at heart".

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BMG polled 1,023 Scots aged 16 or over between April 27 and 30.

It found the SNP enjoy a 28-point lead in the Holyrood constituency vote, with the party on 49%, Labour on 21%, the Conservatives on 19% and the Liberal Democrats on 9%. 

On the regional vote, the SNP is on 37%, the Tories are on 22%, Labour is on 17%, the Liberal Democrats are on 8%, the Greens are on 9%, Alba is on 4% and Reform UK is on 1%. 

Projections by Curtice indicate this would give the SNP 68 seats, up five on 2016 and giving the party a majority.

The Tories would win 25 seats, down six; Labour would win 18, also down six; the Greens would win nine, up three; the Liberal Democrats would win seven, up two; and Alba would win two.

Robert Struthers, head of polling at BMG, said: "There is no question that the SNP will be returned as the largest party in Holyrood next week, but their prospect of a majority remains on a knife-edge.

"With little movement since our last poll in mid-March, there is no real evidence that any party has gathered significant momentum ahead of voters casting their ballots next week.

"Using a uniform seat calculator - a general guide of estimating how votes might translate into seats - our numbers suggest that the SNP could win a small majority of seven, thanks to a close to clean sweep of constituencies. 

"The Greens look to be on course for their strongest ever election showing, picking up 9% on the regional list. 

"The strength of their showing means there is little doubt about the prospect of a pro-independence majority, even if the SNP don't make it over the line themselves.

"The success of Alex Salmond's Alba Party will also come down to very small margins. 

"At 4%, it looks like it will be a struggle for Alba to win representation at Holyrood, although this may be enough at a regional level to pick up a seat or two.

"The margin of error - a feature of all polls - means there is the possibility that Alba could achieve closer to 6%, the number required for a more widespread electoral breakthrough.

"Anas Sarwar's personal ratings have improved over the course of the campaign, but this does not appear to have translated into extra votes for Labour. 

"A poorer showing on the regional list means Labour still looks likely to finish behind the Conservatives in terms of numbers of seats, despite Conservative leader Douglas Ross seeing his own popularity decline."

BMG's previous poll for The Herald, carried out between March 16 and 19, suggested the SNP would win 66 seats, the Tories 27, Labour 20, the Greens eight, and the LibDems eight.

Curtice said the projected SNP majority in the latest poll rests entirely on the outcome in the constituencies. 

The poll shows a national swing on the constituency vote of between 2.5 and 3 points since 2016 from both the Conservatives and Labour to the SNP. 

Curtice said: "The projection assumes this would be replicated everywhere - which would be enough to topple nine opposition-held marginals - but in each case only just."

This means an SNP majority rests on a handful of crucial marginal seats.
Curtice said the seats projected to go to Alba would take one seat off the Conservative estimate and one off the Greens, and so would only add one to the total number of pro-independence MSPs.

He said: "The SNP will be relieved at the findings of this poll. 

"Other recent polls have suggested that the party was not only taking a hit on the list vote but that its support was falling on the constituency vote too.  

"In contrast, while this poll confirms that the intervention of the Alba Party and a strong Green performance have between them cost the SNP some list support, the party’s constituency support has apparently held steady – and that it might be high enough to give Nicola Sturgeon an overall majority irrespective of what happens on the list."

He added: "In contrast, the results will be deeply disappointing for Labour. 
"While it confirms that Anas Sarwar’s personal popularity has risen during the last month, there is little sign – in contrast to some other recent polling – that this is translating into increased support for his party. 

"Although Labour have apparently nudged ahead of the Conservatives on the constituency vote, the party still seems to be stuck firmly in third place on the list vote – and that is the vote that will determine how many seats the party manages to secure."

Elsewhere, the poll highlights Ms Sturgeon's continued popularity. 

It found 54% of Scots are satisfied with the way she is doing her job as SNP leader, compared to just 21% for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, 28% are satisfied with the way Anas Sarwar is doing his job as Scottish Labour leader, with 16% dissatisfied.

Just 14% are satisfied with Douglas Ross as Scottish Tory leader, while 44% are dissatisfied.

Asked what they consider to be the most important issue facing society today, 40% said coronavirus, 11% said the economy and 10% said climate change or the environment. 

Just 7% said Scottish independence or remaining in the UK.

In an open letter to Scottish voters today, Ms Sturgeon said:"Your votes can give me, and a re-elected SNP government, the strength we need to keep Scotland safe.

"That means voting SNP on the constituency vote. And voting SNP on the regional list vote. Both votes are necessary to secure experienced leadership with Scotland at heart. 

"I’m ready to get on with the job. Please help me to do that, by using both your votes for the SNP on Thursday."

Campaigning yesterday, Mr Ross said: "This is our chance to show another referendum the red card.

"If we take the SNP’s obsession off the pitch, we can get all of the focus onto rebuilding Scotland.

"But if Nicola Sturgeon gets a majority, every key issue will be benched in favour of building the SNP’s case for independence."

Elsewhere, Mr Sarwar launched Labour's recovery plan for the Highlands and islands.

He insisted the party would be a "voice for the whole of Scotland - fighting to ensure communities have not only the resources but the powers they need to recover from the pandemic".