THE UK’s leading election expert has predicted Brexit could provide the crucial moment for renewing the drive for indyref2 in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Professor Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said while the covid-19 pandemic was a major event, it was unlikely to have a major impact on views of independence.

However with the UK Government refusing to pause Brexit negotiations during the crisis, crashing out of the EU at the end of the year could once again lead to a fresh boost for support for independence.

A new YouGov poll has found the SNP are on track to win back their majority at next year’s Holyrood election.

The survey found 54% of Scots intend to give their first vote to the party next spring, while 45% would pick them for the regional vote – both increases of 8%.

It also found that, if there were a General Election tomorrow, 51% of Scots would vote for an SNP candidate at Westminster, an increase on the 45% the party achieved in December’s General Election.

While the Scottish Government paused the indyref campaign when the scale of the covid-19 pandemic began to emerge, in recent weeks prominent party figures have called for discussion of independence to be put back on the agenda.

READ MORE: SNP set for huge win in 2021 Holyrood election, new poll shows

Some have predicted the crisis will erode the case for an independent Scotland, but Curtice said it should not be assumed the covid-19 crisis would have a major impact on people’s views of the constitution.

He said: “There are some people who will argue that coronavirus demonstrates we need to be able to call upon the resources of the big United Kingdom in order to be able to withstand the crisis.

“Equally those on the other side say all this goes to show the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon are handling things much better than Boris Johnson.

‘‘Those people who are in favour of the union already will tend to articulate the first argument and those in favour of independence will articulate the second argument.

“It may perhaps lead to some rethinking and changes the circumstances in which any immediate referendum would be held.

“But people will view these things through the prism of their existing views and therefore we can’t necessarily assume it will have a dramatic impact.”

Last week MP Joanna Cherry QC said the SNP should not be “bullied or indeed flattered” into stopping talking about independence.

The party’s justice and home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster pointed out the UK Government has not let the crisis stop it pursuing its own constitutional issue of Brexit.

Meanwhile MP Angus Brendan MacNeil has called for Nicola Sturgeon to immediately restart the independence campaign, saying the UK’s government strategy on tackling coronavirus and refusal to extend the Brexit transition period would help increase support.

Curtice said how Brexit developed this year could potentially present a critical moment for the SNP to renew their push for indyref2.

“There are two things that people think might be true - one is you can’t hold an independence referendum at the moment, the SNP have accepted that one,” he said.

“The other one is that you are not quite sure that you can sort out the transition arrangements [for Brexit] between now and the end of December. That is one the UK Government have not accepted.

“If Brexit is indeed taken to a conclusion - and particularly if it is taken to a tough conclusion - I think the SNP will be reasonably able to argue it is not us that have decided to ignore coronavirus and we are having to deal with the consequences.

“We know there has been a small increase for independence and it is Remain voters who are holding that view.”

Curtice said there was only very limited evidence relating to attitudes to Brexit post-coronavirus, but it suggested the crisis was not changing people’s views on leaving the EU.

He added: “So far as that continues to be the case, the debate is almost bound at some point to be rekindled north of the border.

“Everything now rests on there being a Holyrood election next year, which the SNP manage to win.”

Whether the Holyrood elections will be able to proceed in May 2021 as planned is currently unclear.

WHEN asked about whether she was confident it would take place, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week said it not something she had been thinking much about.

“I just don’t have the space in my head to think about politics or elections right now and I don’t think the public would thank me for doing so,” she said.

Sturgeon said any decision would be taken in consultation with other parties, but added her “starting point” was that the election should go ahead.

Polling expert and research consultant Mark Diffley said the “vast majority” of people were not likely to have yet reflected on the impact of the crisis.

He said the challenge around the SNP starting up the conversation around independence again included that it would be seen as a “distraction” during a time of national crisis.

“It may also be seen by some as opportunistic, so there would definitely be a counter argument that this is really not the time to be thinking about any of this and the political backlash would be relatively significant,” he said.

“It is clear there are a few examples of people seeing the current coronavirus crisis through the lens of the constitution, I think that is happening on both sides of the debate

“One clear thought line on thismight be the extent to which the Scottish Government makes decisions which are different to the UK Government in terms of easing the lockdown measures.

“We see unionists say we must come out of this altogether, and we see those on the nationalist side of the argument basically saying if we need to make different decisions to the London Government then that is what we should do.

“Some of this at least is being seen through a constitutional lens, but I think for most people in the country that wouldn’t be the case.

“What they want is a way through this and the quickest possible return to a sense of normality while minimising any continuing risks to health.”

He added: “On either side of the argument putting your head clearly over the parapet in starting a conversation on the independence question could potentially go down quite badly with the public.”

But he said with some signs that tentative progress in tackling the crisis was now being made, people would want to return to a “sense of normal” as quickly as possible, including in public debates.

“This particular period of time will impact on debate this time next year as we move into the Holyrood election,” he said.

“The constitution will be part of that, what the economy looks like will be part of that, the health service and schools and the police – all of which is particularly unclear at the minute.”

Dr Nick McKerrell, senior lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, also pointed out that issues around how indyref2 would take place had not gone away despite the UK Government’s refusal of a section 30 order earlier this year, which would have allowed to go ahead in the same way as the 2014 vote.

He said: “What is interesting in the medium term is if and when lockdown is lifted, or partially lifted, what has the long-term political and legal effects in terms what are the next steps for independence?

“Where we left it before [the pandemic] the language of the Scottish Government was more about let’s prepare for the next election to give more power to the idea that we have a referendum.

“That is relatively simple thing to put forward, but there is so much else going on in society.”

He added: “There is question of hat the long-term impact of the crisis is going to be – and does it become a bit crude when people are still dying to be raising this issue?

Or do people think it is important to raise this issue as it is a way of solving it? That’s the balance that is going to have to be struck.”