SUPPORT for Scottish independence has soared to its highest ever level, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

In the poll, which has been running since 1999, independence is now the most popular form of government among Scots. The well-respected and detailed poll puts backing for independence on 46 per cent, compared to 42 per cent who want just devolution and 8 per cent who want no Scottish Parliament at all.

It means support for independence is now twice what it was in the same survey back in 2012.

The report, written by Professor John Curtice, does warn Nicola Sturgeon against rushing into a vote, and basing the campaign on Europe.

Curtice says the SNP needs to be aware that there are “high levels of Euroscepticism in Scotland” and plenty of people who might not respond favourably to campaign focusing on EU membership.

According to the survey, 25 per cent of Scots want Britain to leave the EU, while 42 per cent want the EU’s powers to be reduced.

The professor goes on to suggest that if Scotland does becomes independent, the government should offer voters another referendum on EU membership.

One of the most startling results in the analysis is the growing difference between the ages. An astonishing 72 per cent of 16-24 year olds want independence compared with just 26 per cent of people aged 65 and over.

Curtice, who is a Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen, said: “The nationalist movement in Scotland has never been stronger electorally.

“Meanwhile, from its perspective the outcome of the EU referendum appeared to be a perfect illustration of their argument that for so long as it stays in the UK, Scotland is always at risk of having its ‘democratic will’ overturned by England.

“However, 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. 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 that the First Minister might be wise to wait until a few older No voters came to the end of their natural life before having a vote.

“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,” Curtice argued.

The pro-independence poll blogger James Kelly, said the First Minister would have to very carefully “hold together a Yes coalition that will have to include a significant number of pro-independence Leave voters”.

He added: “There are several possible counter-arguments to Curtice’s suggestion that the SNP can afford to play the waiting game until a Yes majority falls into their lap – not least the fact that winning a pro-independence parliamentary majority under the Holyrood system is really, really tough, and the SNP’s seemingly endless honeymoon can’t last forever.

“There must also be severe question marks over how open voters will be to another constitutional upheaval once the dust has settled on what may be a very painful Brexit. Sturgeon may well be right that it’s now or never.”

The SNP’s Bruce Crawford said the increase in support was linked to the “promises made to Scotland in 2014 [being] systematically unpicked by the UK Tory government”.

He added: “While there is much work to do in setting out the challenges and opportunities of independence, how we build a stronger economy and a fairer society, we start from a far stronger position. Scotland has fundamentally changed, the circumstances have shifted, and it is entirely right that the people get to choose what kind of country we now want to be.”

Ross Greer from the Greens agreed with the SNP politician: “Voters in Scotland deserve a choice between being trapped in the angry, isolated Britain planned by the Tories, which will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs and a £2000 drop in average wages or putting our future in our own hands, taking our own place in the world and building the fairer Scotland most of us want to see.”

Scottish Labour’s Ian Murray said the report underlined that “our country is divided enough.”

“We must not be divided again by the SNP’s obsession for a second independence referendum,” he added.

“Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have answers on Europe, and this report makes clear that Scotland’s attitudes towards this is much more complex than the SNP would admit.

“It also shows that heaping uncertainty on top of uncertainty is not the right approach for our country at this time. There is a big debate that needs to happen in Scotland about the Brexit process and powers coming back to Scotland.”