THE SNP is on course for an unprecedented majority at next year’s Holyrood elections, according to a dramatic poll which puts support for independence at 53%.

Such a result in May would secure a clear mandate for a second referendum and heap considerable pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree to a new vote.

The YouGov poll, conducted from 6 to 10 August, found 57% of people in Scotland planned to back Nicola Sturgeon’s party in May – meaning the SNP would return a record 74 MSPs – up from 63 currently.

It put the Tories was at 20%, and Labour at a dismal 14% – down from 23% in the constituency vote in 2016.

The outcome would mean that the SNP would be the most powerful party of government since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999.

In 2011, the only time there has been a majority government at Holyrood, former First Minister Alex Salmond had 69 MSPs. The 2014 referendum followed the party’s electoral success.

The YouGov results are the highest levels of backing for the SNP and for independence recorded by the polling company and are the latest research findings showing majority support for independence. Two polls by Panelbase carried out in recent weeks put support for independence at 54%.

Perhaps remarkably, the poll for The Times was carried out during the exams’ crisis which has prompted opposition parties to put down a motion of no confidence in Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney.

On Tuesday, the Scottish Government reversed a decision to lower the grades of thousands of pupils amid a public outcry. The YouGov poll suggested the situation had not damaged the First Minister’s standing with her approval ratings soaring by 45 points. It now stands at +50, compared to Johnson’s at minus 54 having fallen by 16 points. Ruth Davidson, named on Tuesday as the Tory group leader at Holyrood, has an approval rating of 15, while Labour leader Keir Starmer’s stands at 14.

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A Panelbase poll published last month found strong backing for Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, with the First Minister’s approval rating on the issue at 60 points.The YouGov poll similarly shows the majority of Scots also back the First Minister’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, but have been far less convinced by the Tories.

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: “This poll shows that voters across Scotland continue to place their trust in the SNP to deliver for them after more than a decade in government at Holyrood.

“People in Scotland want an accessible government which listens to and engages with the public and that’s what they will always get with the SNP. The Scottish Government remains fully focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic – but it’s now clearer than ever that people in Scotland have confidence in the SNP, and in Scotland’s ability to govern itself.”

He added: “It is now the established majority view in Scotland that we should be an independent country. Prolonging any attempt to stop people from having their say over their future is undemocratic, unsustainable and runs the risk of public opinion in Scotland turning even more sharply against the Prime Minister.

“There is now unstoppable momentum behind an independence referendum – and that will be a decision for the people of Scotland, not Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician.”

Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, welcomed the increased backing for independence pointing to the development coming as the PM prepares to take the UK out of the European customs union and single market and impose an internal market across the UK.

He said: “It’s no wonder that poll after poll shows an increase in support for independence. I welcome the latest poll which shows that support for Scotland to take its future into its own hands is as high as it has ever been.

“It’s clear that the people of Scotland are ready to reject the incompetent and arrogant UK Government, and take the opportunity of independence to build a fairer, healthier Scotland.”