A RISE in support for breaking up the union is not inevitable following Boris Johnson’s ‘partygate’, according to polling guru Sir John Curtice.

The Strathclyde University Professor said that, despite the saga hitting the Scottish Conservative party in the polls, there was not “any significant rise in support for independence”.

Speaking on The Sunday Show on BBC Scotland, Prof Curtice said: “All I think we can say so far about the central question in Scotland, which is its constitutional status, is we've had one poll since the first round of ‘partygate’ that did not show any significant rise in support for independence.

“So, I don't think we should necessarily assume that if Boris Johnson were to survive, unpopular as he is, that that's necessarily going to make life difficult so far as support for No [to independence] is concerned.”

He added: “Though undoubtedly that poll did show it was doing damage to the Conservatives north of the Border. … the prospects of fighting the local elections in May effectively where they are defending the good set of results in 2017, looks markedly more difficult if Boris Johnson were to still be Prime Minister at the beginning of May.”

His comments came following an Opinium poll for the Observer, which put Labour 10 points ahead of the Tories at 41% – double their lead the previous week – and Boris Johnson’s personal approval rating crashing to minus 42.

More than two thirds of the 2000 people polled thought the police should investigate Johnson and the goings-on in Downing Street, and almost half of Tory voters at the last election thought he should resign as party leader.

Prof Curtice also discussed the idea of a breakaway Tory Party in Scotland – an idea being floated by former MSP Adam Tomkins.

He said that while there was no available data on the specific question, it was something that went back to the Scottish leadership battle in 2011 between Ruth Davidson and Murdo Fraser.

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He added: “That kind of project of persuading people you've created a new party with a different image that's more separate from Westminster is a long term project.

“It’s not something that's likely to solve the party's immediate problems, because you've really got to persuade voters you're something different and that doesn't happen in a matter of weeks, and certainly not between now and [council elections at] the beginning of May.

“The crucial thing to do in looking at these polls is to compare the position now without just before Christmas, because … the polls were registering the impact of the first round of ‘partygate’ that was instigated by that now infamous video that featured Allegra Stratton struggling to defend the party that was supposedly held in December 2020.

“The point is now that the polls show the Conservatives around two points weaker than they were just before Christmas, Labour about two points higher. In other words, they're in an even more difficult position now than they were in the wake of the first round of allegations … The Prime Minister's personal approval ratings have plummeted very dramatically indeed now.

“In other polls amongst those who voted Conservative in 2019, rather more of them now say they’re unhappy with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister then say they are happy. That’s a very marked position, a position that's emerged literally, over the course of the last week or so.”

Curtice said of all the Tory contenders for the party leadership, Rishi Sunak is best known to voters and has the most popular profile.

But any successor would have to keep together “that substantial body of leave voters, three-quarters of whom voted for the Conservatives in 2019”.

He thought the opposition parties would prefer Johnson to remain, although if he did go and the Tories moved more towards the centre right than under him, Labour might find that an easier target in the longer run.