Nicola Sturgeon has suffered a blow after a new poll found the majority of Scots are in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom.
In a poll conducted by YouGov for The Times, 57% of Scots are opposed to separating from the UK, while 43% back leaving, when “don’t knows” and those unprepared to vote are taken out.
The 14-point gap suggests support for the pro-independence side has tumbled since the last referendum, where 55% backed the union to 45% in favour of leaving.
YouGov last recorded a 14-point lead in favour of continued union in a poll in August 2014, a month before the first independence referendum.
But a separate survey revealed support for independence to be at its highest since the annual poll began in 1999.
The poll comes days after Nicola Sturgeon dramatically called for a fresh bid to breakaway, after she said Downing Street had failed to account for Scottish interests in Brexit talks to this point.
It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will grant a new vote, which would be set to take place less than four years since the last.
The First Minister is set to win the backing of Holyrood in support of a new referendum, with the SNP and Greens forming a combined majority.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found 46% of Scots back leaving the UK, exactly double the number from 2012, before the respective Yes and No campaigns had taken off in advance of the 2014 vote, according to the survey.
The research by the Scottish Centre of Social Research shows support for independence among young people to be overwhelming, with 72% of Scottish voters aged between 16-24 now backing the proposal.
The poll also shows a majority of Scots hold eurosceptic opinions however, in what could mark an early blow for Ms Sturgeon, who has sought to lead the next independence campaign on the premise of keeping Scotland in the EU.
In the results, gathered in the months after the Brexit vote, 25% wanted to leave the EU, 42% wanted the bloc’s powers to be reduced, while just 21% of respondents said they want arrangements with the EU to stay as they currently are.
Scotland’s leading political scientist, John Curtice, said it was looking unlikely that framing the debate around continued membership of Europe would lead to Scots swinging to the nationalists’ side.
“The commitment to the EU of many of those who voted to Remain does not appear to be strong enough that they are likely to be persuaded by the outcome of the EU referendum to change their preference for staying in the UK,” he said.
“Meanwhile, there is a risk that linking independence closely to the idea of staying in the EU could alienate some of those who currently back leaving the UK.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon might have been wiser to have stayed her hand, for on current trends there is a real possibility that demographic change will help produce a majority for independence in the not too distant future anyway.”
The release of the poll coincides with SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson admitting the party could still backtrack on a second referendum.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “There may only be days, may only be weeks, but where all of our efforts are currently focused is trying to convince the UK government to come to a compromise agreement protecting Scotland’s place in Europe.”
“If that road runs out and if we have to have that referendum, we will be turning our attention to making sure that we are making the case publicly, intellectually and in every other way so people understand the choice of a hard Tory Brexit or a Scotland able to maintain its relations with the rest of Europe.”