The National:

THE past two weeks have seen coverage of the inquiry into the Scottish Government’s investigation of former First Minister Alex Salmond ramp up, and an almighty spat break out (mostly online) over Joanna Cherry’s reshuffling out of her Westminster front bench role.

Amidst intensifying divisions in the SNP, today’s Scotsman/Savanta ComRes poll provides an instructive glance at what the Scottish public make of it all – and a shot across the SNP’s bow that the party should take seriously.

The poll found that support for independence (once Don’t Knows are excluded) has fallen from 57% to 53% since January, but keep in mind that this merely brings Savanta ComRes into line with what other pollsters have been finding for some time. And the 54% constituency voting intention for the SNP that they found is the party’s highest level of support this year.

READ MORE: Stunning new poll records majority support for Scottish independence

Still, "divided parties don’t win elections" is a common refrain for a reason. When voters begin to see a party as divided, they start to rate it as less competent on policy issues, eventually leading to loss of support. The poll’s findings that more Scots now see the SNP as divided than as united should be of major concern.

The SNP’s independence strategy rests on implementing distinctive policies in devolved areas, convincing voters that they can be trusted to competently govern an independent Scotland. That reputation for competence has been reinforced by Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SNP’s strong polling, and the current majority support for independence, are built on the public’s perception that the First Minister and her party are competent across the key issues facing the country.

Anything that undermines that strategy is a serious threat not just to the SNP but also to the prospect of an independent Scotland. If the SNP continues to publicly play out its divisions, gradual erosion of its voter base and support for an independent Scotland is highly likely. To avoid that, the party needs to act.

READ MORE: Here's how support for independence has changed in five years as 21st poll shows Yes lead

In the Savanta ComRes poll, voters consistently backed the First Minister’s positions, including on Gender Recognition Act reform. Other recent polls have demonstrated that she remains stratospherically popular with the electorate, and highly trusted.

In contrast, SNP voters are twice as likely to back Joanna Cherry’s "sacking" than oppose it, and the favourability towards Alex Salmond has hit rock bottom (just 15% of voters, and 27% of SNP voters, said they have a favourable view of him in a January YouGov poll).

The SNP is likely to win May’s Holyrood election, but if the party can’t bring its divisive and disruptive faction under control we could face a weakening SNP government leading the Yes movement into a referendum that, if lost, truly will spell the end of our independence prospects for a generation.