MORE than half of voters believe Scotland will be independent in a decade to 15 years, according to a new poll.

The Panelbase survey of 1,020 over 16s found 54 per cent expect the country to have achieved the ambition within that timescale, while 38 per cent are more optimistic believing independence will come much sooner – within five to 10 years.

According to the same poll, 61 per cent expected Scotland to be independent within 20 or 30 years.

The survey for The Sunday Times and Heart FM also shows how attitudes to the constitutional question differ by class, gender and age with rising levels of support for independence among young men but decreasing levels among women.

Last September Panelbase found 65 per cent of men aged 16 to 34 backed independence, while 35 per cent were opposed. Support among that group has now risen to 71 per cent, while those against has fallen to 29 per cent.

Yet among women aged 35 to 54 support for independence has fallen over the same period from 48 per cent to 41 cent, with opposition up from 52 per cent to 59 per cent.

The poll also showed that among wealthier Scots support for independence has fallen two points to 36 per cent, while among the less well-off there has been little change, with independence backed by 54 per cent and opposed by 46 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon hinted last month she may call a second independence referendum by the end of March if she does not get a positive response from the Prime Minister about her proposals to keep Scotland in the single market in a bespoke Brexit deal.

The First Minister said the “next few weeks” will be “absolutely crucial” when it comes to her judging whether the country’s voice is going to be heard in the process to leave the EU.

In a sign that campaigning for a Yes vote may soon get under way Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens MSP, told the Sunday Herald yesterday that he expected a formal launch after May’s council elections.

He told The National’s sister paper that “people out there are champing at the bit to get started”.

In a separate development yesterday, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said he “dreads” a second Scottish independence referendum but does not believe Scotland would vote to leave the UK.

He said another vote on the issue would be “seriously unpleasant and divisive” and set “Scot against Scot”.

Mundell refused to clarify whether the UK Government would block moves for a second referendum in light of the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s indication last week that Westminster would not grant permission.

The Scottish Secretary has previously said the UK Government would not frustrate attempts for a further referendum on Scottish independence but pressed on this issue on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show he said it was not an issue as there is currently no proposal on the table.

He added: “I’m not feart of another referendum, as Nicola Sturgeon likes to suggest, because I think it is pretty clear the outcome would be the same.

“But I dread it because I think it would be a divisive and seriously unpleasant event which would set Scot against Scot and I don’t think people want to see that.”

He also said the Scottish Government’s proposal to remain part of the single market through the European Free Trade Agreement as well as staying in the UK was “not impossible”.

He said : “It’s not impossible but I believe that it’s better to proceed on the basis that the Prime Minister set out of getting access to the single market for the whole of the United Kingdom with a free trade agreement.

“I don’t see the evidence to suggest that Scotland needs or would benefit from a differentiated agreement but my mind is open and we’ve intensified discussions to look at that.”

A Panelbase poll for The Sunday Times at the end of last month found 27 per cent of Scots would like to see a second independence referendum within “one or two years” while 23 per cent would prefer it “about two years from now, when the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU.”

Some 51 per cent said there should not be another independence referendum in the next few years.

Last night, an SNP spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is exploring all options to protect Scotland’s place in Europe, including the option of an independence referendum if it becomes clear that this is the best way of achieving this.”