‘GAME on...” that’s what former First Minister Alex Salmond tweeted yesterday morning after a new poll showed support for Scottish independence had surged to 49 per cent.

In 2014, Scots rejected independence in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom 55-45, but the approaching hard Brexit cliff edge seems to have changed a few minds.

The BMG survey for The Herald reveals a 3.5 per cent jump in support from the last poll to 49 per cent in favour of independence and 51 per cent backing the Union, when “don’t knows” are removed.

It came as reports suggested Downing Street had been working with the Tories in Scotland to prepare for SNP demands for a second referendum.

According to the Courier, May and Ruth Davidson believe Nicola Sturgeon will call for the next referendum at the SNP conference in March, and that the vote could be held in August 2018.

A senior Scottish Tory insider said: “We need to be prepared. Listening to what they [the SNP] have been saying in the past few days the timing could be even faster than August. This is about making sure we are calm and collected ahead of any negotiations.”

The source added: “The issue which people have got a bit back to front is the Scottish government can’t call a referendum. We had an agreement last time and would need agreement on issues such as the timing, the franchise and the question again.”

Dr Michael Turner, research director at BMG, said Brexit was “undoubtedly having an effect on support for the principle of independence”.

He added: “However, although the results do show a clear rise in support since May’s speech, which suggested that the UK may go for a harder form of Brexit than first thought, they also suggest a majority of Scots may not have the appetite for another referendum before the Brexit negotiations are concluded.

“Although these results suggest that opposition to independence is by no means an insurmountable task for Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, they do imply that she is a fair way off from her ‘red lines’ of clear and consistent support.”

When asked if there should be “another independence referendum held prior to Brexit negotiations being concluded between the UK and the EU” voters said no 56 to 44.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said the surge was partly down to Theresa May: “The Tories now think they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it – but this poll suggests their arrogance and complacency is badly misplaced.”

He added: “If the Tories continue with their blind pursuit of a hard Brexit, ignoring the clear view of an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, then more and more people will see independence as the option delivering certainty and stability.”

Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins pointed towards comments made by an SNP source on the BBC in 2015, where it was suggested there needed to be a series of polls showing 60 per cent support before the next referendum was called.

“By her own measure, this should be enough for Nicola Sturgeon to call off her threat of another separation vote,” the Tory prof told the Herald.

“The findings are clear – the SNP should focus on getting a good Brexit deal for Scotland and the UK, not use the process for independence rabble-rousing.”

Scottish Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said that the shift of support on independence was not “meaningful”. He added: “The poll also shows a great reluctance among Scottish people to thrash this out again.”

The Greens, however, said the shift was “remarkable” considering there had been “no official Yes campaign since 2014”. MSP Ross Greer said: “Considering there’s been no official Yes campaign since 2014 and a relatively sustained campaign against, it’s remarkable that support for independence has held steady. However, this poll, up three points since the last BMG poll, highlights the impact of Westminster’s refusal to seriously consider Scotland’s vote to stay in the EU or any compromise proposals which have been presented to them. Time is quickly running out for Unionists to get behind an option which prevents Scotland from being dragged along with the angry, isolated Britain planned by Theresa May.”