The SNP today welcomed figures which show First Minister Alex Salmond has recorded a huge lead in approval ratings over his Labour rival Wendy Alexander.

The Nationalist leader was given a plus 53% rating by voters - against minus 22% for the embattled Labour leader, according to poll results released today.

The SNP are also ahead on voting preferences for Holyrood.

The MRUK poll found the SNP would increase their majority if a Scottish election were held tomorrow, winning 57 seats while Labour would win 44.

The Conservatives would win 16 seats and the Liberal Democrats 12.

According to the results, the SNP are currently polling 39% on the constituency ballot, up 6% from last May, and at 40% of the regional list vote, up nine percentage points.

Labour are on 31% of the constituency vote, down 1% from last year, and at 30% of the regional up 1% on the regional ballot.

Deputy First Minister and SNP Depute Leader Ms Nicola Sturgeon MSP welcomed the findings of the poll She said: "These are fantastic poll ratings for the SNP and the Scottish Government.

"As we approach the anniversary of our first year in office, the poll shows that our fast pace of delivery continues to gain the trust of the people with sky high approval ratings under the leadership of Alex Salmond.

"Alex Salmond's +53% rating demonstrates his outstanding leadership of the Scottish Government. By contrast, Wendy Alexander's leadership is in deep crisis."

Those questioned in the poll were also asked how they thought the Labour and Scottish Government leaders were doing as party leaders.

More than two thirds (70%) said Mr Salmond was doing well, compared to less than a third (30%) for Ms Alexander.

More than half (52%) thought she was doing badly, compared to just 17% for Mr Salmond.

The drop in Ms Alexander's personal popularity comes after a long-running row over a political donation, and as Scottish Labour prepares for its conference in Aviemore later this month.

An Electoral Commission probe was prompted by the disclosure last November that Ms Alexander had received £950 from Paul Green, a Jersey-based businessman, for a leadership campaign which resulted in her being elected unopposed.

This was in apparent breach of the law which says donations above £200 must be from UK voters or firms.

It led to the resignation of Labour MSP Charlie Gorden after he admitted blunders over the donation.

The row bubbled on for weeks, then erupted with fresh force on February 1 when Ms Alexander revealed the names of 10 donors, all for sums of just below £1,000.

She said she was doing so after being told by the Holyrood standards commissioner that such details should have been disclosed on Holyrood's register of interests.

But several days later, the Electoral Commission took the decision not to report her to prosecutors over the £950 donation from Mr Green.

Ms Alexander claimed she had been "vindicated".

Ivor Knox, of MRUK Cello, said: "There is no good news for Wendy in this poll.

"The first 10 months of SNP government has clearly strengthened its support"

"On the key issues of the economy, education, health and law and order, far more voters trust Salmond rather than Alexander to look after their interests."

MRUK Cello interviewed 1028 adults across Scotland between 29 February and 9 March.