SCOTLAND’S place in the Union “is now less certain than it ever has been in the past”, John Curtice has said.

The polling guru was speaking on Times Radio when he was asked to predict whether or not Scots would vote for independence within the next four years.

The professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde refused to say one or the other, but he did say that he believed much of the recent move to Yes in the polls was fuelled by coronavirus and how Scots viewed Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic.

He said that while Brexit had fuelled some Remainers to move from No to Yes, for most of the last few years, they had been “counterbalanced by people moving in the opposite direction”.

It was only last year that the number of Remain voters switching to support independence outpaced Leave voters switching to No, leading to polls that, on average, put Yes between 49% and 51.

Curtice told the broadcaster: “Part two of this story, however, really takes place this year after Brexit day, and in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. We’ve now seen in recent opinion polls a further increase in support for Yes, the last three polls, 52%, 54%, 54%, but the character of this increase is different and this is what takes us back to coronavirus.

“So whereas last year the polls were saying Remain voters are becoming more pro-Yes, but Leave voters are not, the polls this year are saying that both groups have become a bit more pro-Yes, although Remain voters are still much more likely to be in favour of Yes than Leave voters, but Leave voters also now apparently switching to some degree.

“So therefore it’s no longer obvious that this more recent increase is to do with Brexit, as opposed to something else. And the most obvious something else is, of course, coronavirus.”

Curtice added that the Scottish Government had “been making life and death decisions about health” and had been given “a prominence and importance for people that frankly it’s never heard in the previous 21 years of devolution”.

The pollster explained: “Against that backdrop, we discover, according to more than one opinion poll, that people think that Boris Johnson has not done a terribly good job of handling coronavirus, they overwhelmingly think that Nicola Sturgeon has. And this isn’t just the usual suspects of Yes voters and SNP voters, even amongst Leave voters and those who voted No in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of coronavirus is rated much more highly more than Boris Johnson.”

Curtice said it was “difficult to avoid the conclusion” that more people had been won over by the argument that “an independent Scotland will be able to run itself rather more effectively”.

Over the weekend, Sturgeon said “there may be a lesson” in the fact that polls show increased support for Yes at a time when her party has “not been talking about independence all the time but getting on with the job of autonomous decision-making”.