A NEW poll suggests a 12 point lead for the No side on independence and a gulf between the public’s concerns and the perceived priorities of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. 

The Lord Ashcroft poll found two-thirds of Scots, including almost half of SNP voters, disagree with the First Minister’s plan to treat the general election as a ‘de facto’ referendum. 

The survey also found most Scots oppose the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reform law, with even a quarter of SNP voters backing Westminster’s decision to veto it.

While the 2,105 respondents to the survey listed the NHS, cost of living and economy as their top three priorities, they said Ms Sturgeon and the SNP had prioritised achieving independence and gender recognition and trans rights ahead of the NHS. 

After almost 16 years in power, the SNP’s record on schools, education and the economy was making voters less confident about voting independence.

The findings will add to the growing unease within the SNP that the party’s grip on power is starting to loosen as Ms Sturgeon’s once sure political touch seems to desert her.

Professor Sir John Curtice, the country’s leading polling expert, said the findings were “certainly not good news for the independence side”, and indicated Ms Sturgeon’s plan to challenge the gender reform veto was out of step with the public mood.

“It’s not the ground on which to fight, that much is clear," he said.

The Lord Ashcroft poll found 37 per cent of respondents would vote Yes to independence tomorrow, compared to 48% voting No, 12% undecided and 3% not voting at all.

Excluding undecideds and non-voters, 56% said they would No, and 44% Yes.

There was widespread scepticism about Ms Sturgeon’s plan to treat the general election as a de facto Indyref2 in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling Holyrood cannot hold a new vote without Westminster’s consent.

The SNP is due to discuss the idea, and possible alternatives, at a conference next month.

Only 21% of people agreed with the de facto idea, while 67% said elections covered a variety of issues and it can’t be assumed that every vote for the SNP or Greens is a vote for independence, with 12% undecided.

Even among people who voted SNP at the 2019 election, only 44% agreed with the plan while 48% said an election could not be used to infer a vote for independence.

Asked to name the three most important issues facing Scotland at the moment, 62% said health and the NHS, the cost of living (57%) and the economy and jobs (27%).

Achieving independence was named by 14% and gender recognition and trans rights by 3%.

However, asked which issues they thought Ms Sturgeon and the SNP in government were treating as their main priorities, 65% named independence, followed by gender recognition and trans rights (46%) and health and the NHS (22%.

Only 18% said the cost of living was one of the SNP’s top priorities, and only 10% said jobs.

On voting intention, 31% said they would vote SNP in a general election tomorrow, with Scottish Labour on 25%, the Scottish Tories 16%, the Scottish Greens 13%, the Scottish Liberal Democrats 12%, Reform UK 5% and Alba 3%.

Among those most likely to vote, the SNP improved to 40% with the Greens on 5%, still less than the 50% plus 1 needed to claim victory in a de facto referendum. 

The poll, which comes on the back of other recent surveys showing a softening of support for Yes and the SNP, was carried out between January 26 and February 3.

Prof Curtice told Holyrood magazine, which first reported the poll, that the SNP was “divided” on independence strategy, with support for ending the UK “weakening”.

He said: "The Supreme Court judgement of November pushed the numbers up and there was always good reason to believe that would come down after what was probably a temporary rise.

"It’s certainly not good news for the independence side but I think we should be aware that probably it was going to deflate anyway.

"The UK veto on the Gender Reform Recognition bill at this point in time has not done anything for the pro-independence case. It’s not the ground on which to fight, that much is clear."

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “The public have delivered a damning verdict on Nicola Sturgeon’s arrogant and irresponsible plans to treat the next General Election as a de facto referendum on independence.

“They are overwhelmingly opposed to her plan and have made it clear to the First Minister that they will vote on a range of issues in next year’s general election and are not prepared to pander to her independence obsession.

"Even SNP voters who voted for them at the last General Election are sceptical and their concerns are also shared by senior figures within the party.

“Nicola Sturgeon is not only losing her grip within her own party, but she is vastly out-of-touch with the public when it comes to a de facto referendum.

“Voters have also confirmed that trying to break up the United Kingdom is simply not one of their priorities right now, even if they can resoundingly see it is the obsession of Nicola Sturgeon’s Government."

Former first minister Alex Salmond, leader of the Alba party, urged Ms Sturgeon to abandon her plan to challenge the UK Government Section 35 order veto to the GRR Bill.

He said: “The job of those trusted with the leadership of the independence movement is to build a coalition of people from across Scotland, from all backgrounds, that leads to a majority of people in favour of Scottish independence. 

“This strategy served us well for many years. However, the recent obsession with the issue of self-identification risks completely losing the trust of a large section of women's rights campaigners when it comes to the constitutional issue.

“There are many issues where Scotland should be directly challenging Westminster. This debate is not one of them. 

“The First Minister must by now be aware that if her Government continues to progress a policy that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, then there will be no turning back from the damage this will do to the cause of Scottish independence.” 

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This poll shows Scots do not want to break up the UK, and they overwhelmingly oppose Nicola Sturgeon’s tactics for doing so.

“It’s yet another poll showing support for Scotland’s place at the heart of the UK, and a firm rejection of the SNP’s obsession to break it apart.

“Scotland’s positive future is with the rest of the UK, and it’s time the Scottish Government started respecting that.

“The fact two-thirds oppose the First Minister’s plan for a de facto referendum is also a message she should hear loud and clear.

“It’s time for the people’s priorities, not the SNP’s.”

SNP MSP Paul McLennan said: "At the Scottish Parliament elections, people voted overwhelmingly for a majority of MSPs offering them a chance to choose a better future as an independent country and that must be respected. It is utterly outrageous that Westminster party leaders continue to stand in the way of Scottish democracy.

"Be it under the Tories or Labour, Westminster control means people across Scotland are condemned to a bleak Brexit future. Scotland deserves far better, and the only way to build that better future is to become an independent country."