The National:

FOR many weeks now, those of us living and breathing the rollercoaster of Scottish politics have been gripped by the parliamentary inquiry and the related increasingly rancorous dispute within the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP).

As we watch and read the daily fallout from this story, we speculate as to what impact, if any, it will have on public opinion in advance of the upcoming Holyrood election, as well as prospects for a second independence referendum.

Until now there has been no electoral impact for the SNP as it soars in the polls and support for independence has grown, having majority support in each of the last 21 polls. The theory, of course, is that the Salmond inquiry story is one of process and complexity, implying that voters will either ignore it or conclude that they can’t decide on its rights and wrongs.

Today’s poll suggests that we may need to revisit that theory.

To be clear, it remains inconceivable that the SNP will not win the election to the Scottish Parliament, 10 weeks from today. This current poll puts the party at an eye-wateringly high 52% support for the constituency element and 47% for the regional element of the ballot, almost unchanged from the last survey by the same pollster. Crucially, a result of anywhere near that magnitude is likely to result in the SNP having an overall majority in Holyrood, mirroring its incredible result at the 2011 election.

READ MORE: Independence supported by majority of Scots, 22nd consecutive poll shows

So, what seems clear is that the SNP remains on course for a resounding victory and that, despite its current travails, the opposition parties are not able to make much of a dent in its lead, let alone overturn the likely on May 6th.

However, dig into the poll a little deeper and there are warning signs for the SNP and, possibly, the wider pro-independence movement.

Support for independence, until recently on a consistent and significant upward trajectory, now appears to be stalling. It still leads support for the Union by a 4-percentage point margin (52% to 48% among voters who have decided how they vote), but this represents a fall from 56% that the same polling company found in December.

More broadly, support for independence from the five polls conducted in the first two months of 2021 stands at an average of 53%, down from an average of 55% in the polls conducted in the final two months of 2020.

Of more immediate concern to the SNP and the Yes movement are other findings from the poll.

The National: It is possible to understand why Alex Salmond wishes to go to court while also accepting the First Minister’s position on the matter

The Alex Salmond inquiry has had some, albeit limited so far, impact on attitudes. While it is unsurprising that more than a third of voters as a whole are left with a less favourable view of the SNP as a result of the inquiry, the fact that one in five SNP voters hold this view should be of concern to the party this close to a vital election.

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At the same time, the First Minister’s personal ratings have taken a knock with satisfaction in her performance falling from 72% in October to 64% now. Of course, these remain remarkably high for a long-serving leader and far ahead of other leaders at a Scotland or UK level, but the poll does point to areas of concern for the party to address.

Where does this leave us? The poll should be concerning to the SNP; given that the interviewing took place before the increasingly acrimonious events of this week, it is possible that there is more electoral damage to come.

Possibly not the time to panic but, with such a crucial election looming, the time to consider the adage about divided parties being unpopular with the electorate and punished at the ballot box.

Mark Diffley is the founder and director of the Diffley Partnership, a research group that engages with the public, businesses, and stakeholder audiences from all sectors, applying the most relevant research methods, coupled with crisp insight and clear, actionable findings.