THE SNP would be facing a “cataclysmic” collapse in support if it were not being "kept afloat" by independence, one of the country’s leading election experts has said.

Professor Rob Johns, a member of the Scottish Election Study, said it was “wishful thinking” on the part of Unionists to expect the party’s current “chaotic” scandals to sink it.

The wider reservoir of support for independence buoyed up the SNP, meaning there was a modest limit to how far it could fall, and likewise a ceiling on how far its rivals could rise.

Support for independence was even less likely to dip over the scandals, he said, given it had been essentially static since the referendum of 2014.

“We wouldn't expect a collapse in SNP vote, let alone Yes voting, as a result of Murrell and motorhomes and so on,” he said.

But Prof Johns warned the SNP does face an acute squeeze in the coming general election akin to the one that cost it a third of its MPs in 2017.

This was due in part to more people being likely to vote Labour to get rid of the Tories, but also because the SNP could not credibly argue that it was a vehicle for independence.

It would be "much harder for the SNP in 2024 than it was in 2019 or any other election to say, ‘It's really important that you vote for us because we will deliver independence’, because it's becoming clearer and clearer that they really don’t know how to do it,” he said.

Since Nicola Sturgeon quit as leader in February with an admission she could not advance independence any further, the SNP has been rocked by a series of exits and scandals.

Ms Sturgeon’s husband, the then SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, resigned after party HQ misled the media about the loss of 30,000 members. 

Holyrood media boss Murray Foote also quit after he was misled on the issue.

On April 5, police investigating whether £660,000 raised by the SNP for Indyref2 had been spent on other things raided the party’s HQ and the home of Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell.

They also seized a luxury £110,000 motorhome from Mr Murrell’s 92-year-old mother.

Mr Murrell was arrested and released without charge pending further investigation. 

Two weeks later, MSP Colin Beattie quit as SNP treasurer the day after he was arrested and released without charge. 

After Humza Yousaf became leader, he revealed the SNP’s auditors had quit last September - a problem that was only remedied last week.

The Scottish Election Group, an academic study of Scottish politics and voting, last week launched its new book on the 2014 independence referendum and its aftermath at Edinburgh University.

Speaking at the event, Prof Johns, Professor in Politics at the University of Essex, discussed the potential impact of the SNP’s recent scandals on support for the party and its cause.

Under a slide showing the infamous blue police tent outside Ms Sturgeon’s home, he said: “The question before us is, Would we expect that scandal to dent support for independence appreciably? If you had read our book, you would know absolutely that it wouldn’t.”

He said there was “virtually no evidence” of a relationship between support for the SNP impacting upon support for independence, noting support for independence remained steady even when support for the SNP rose and fell.

“The SNP polled 50 per cent in the 2015 Westminster election. It polled 37% in the 2017 election. That's a big slide. It lost a lot of seats. But support for independence ignored those ups and downs, just as it ignored the 2019 election and so on.

“So we’re totally comfortable with the idea that support for the SNP can fluctuate pretty wildly, while support for independence stays where it is. 

“Part of the reason is that people feel very strongly, still feel very strongly, connected to the decision they made, and often the arguments they made, in 2014. 

“They are pretty wedded to the SNP and this is part of this argument why we wouldn't expect SNP support to collapse, because people feel very strongly Yes and they associate the SNP closely with that identity.”

Moreover, even “this kind of chaotic scandal” would be expected to have little impact on SNP polling “because support for the SNP is kept afloat by support for independence”.

He said: “The SNP has lost some support. There's no doubt about that. But it hasn't, by any means, imploded. And some of the more recent polling is actually showing the SNP vote ticking up again. 

“What would be happening to SNP support if there were not independence? I think it would be something pretty cataclysmic probably, but we do have independence [as an issue].

“It's not that nothing will matter, but nothing will matter very much.”

That said, recent polling on voters prioritising whether to remove the Tories from power in 2024 or securing independence left plenty “for Labour to exploit”, he added.

Alba leader Alex Salmond yesterday told his party conference in Inverness that Scots were “conned” into voting No nine years ago and must “drive forward now” with a fresh effort.

He said Unionist arguments on EU membership and cheaper food and energy bills had been “destroyed” by Brexit and other events in the last decade.

He said: “The No campaign in 2014 sneaked home on a false prospectus. Tory and Labour - the Better Together coalition - conned Scotland out of independence.

“With independence support still running high at 48%, Scots need to drive forward now on an independence agenda and not be duped or side-tracked once again.”