BORIS Johnson’s argument against holding indyref2 will "wash away”, according to the UK’s leading polling expert.

Professor Sir John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, warned the Prime Minister has he visited Scotland that he could no longer use the pandemic as an excuse not to hold another vote.

The Tory leader has come north as part of efforts to strengthen the Union, though he has publicly snubbed an invitation to meet with the First Minister.

Curtice, speaking to the Express, predicted a “game of chess” next year when the Covid crisis is likely to cease being the major issue in people’s lives.

“If the pandemic is coming towards an end, and the UK Government seemed to be among the cheerleaders to saying that the pandemic is coming to the end, then the arguments you can't hold a referendum anytime soon because of the pandemic will wash away,” the professor said.

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"They'll particularly wash away so far as the UK Government won't be able to pursue that argument anymore because of its own stance on the subject that 'we're waiting to see and it's all very much uncertain, we wait to see what happens during the winter.'

"But certainly by this time next year, the reasonable bet is the pandemic will no longer be a significant strain on social and political life.

"At that point, the game of chess starts and we wait to see where the polls are at when the game of chess starts.

"And we wait to see how the game of chess is played. But it's a complicated game of chess."

The Scottish Government has pledged to hold indyref2 within the parliamentary term, once the coronavirus crisis has “passed”.

According to reports, SNP members will be invited to back a new drive for independence at the party’s upcoming conference.

Curtice noted that Sturgeon is under pressure from the Yes movement on promises to push for a second plebiscite.

He added: “It will be as impossible for Nicola Sturgeon not to pursue a referendum as would have been proposed Johnson not to have pursued Brexit after December 2019.

"They are both hidebound by very particular electorates that have a very particular view.

"And then we see what happens."

Over the weekend, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the UK Government would not stand in the way of a plebiscite if it was the "settled will" of the Scottish people.

But he added: "I just don't think that it is right, and the public don't think it is right, to ask that question at the moment."

Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, stressed that the will of the Scottish people was expressed in May's Holyrood election, when a pro-Yes majority was elected to Parliament.