IN the hours after yesterday’s UK Supreme Court ruling found that Holyrood cannot legislate for a second independence referendum, the First Minister reaffirmed her commitment to treating the next UK General Election as a "de-facto referendum".

The idea of treating Westminster elections as votes on Scotland’s place in the Union is, of course, not a new one. It was the old-school electoral strategy of the SNP before Alex Salmond persuaded members to change the party’s policy in 2000 – precisely because the gradualist wing of the party understood that it scared particular voters off.

Since 2014, Scottish politics has settled into a new normal, in which the SNP’s pro-independence base is much larger than in the decades before the 2014 referendum. It therefore seems to make a certain amount of sense, considering a second referendum being taken off the table, for the SNP to return to their pre-Scottish Parliament electoral strategy.

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But does the SNP’s modern strength, and the historically high level of support for independence, make this strategy any safer than it was in the past?

The most recent public opinion polling certainly seems to suggest not.

What the polls say

In October, Savanta ComRes found that just 32% of Scots thought it was "the right thing" to treat a UK General Election as a de-facto referendum on Scottish independence. Some 55% said it was "the wrong thing to do".

More problematically, the SNP did not have the backing of many pro-independence and past SNP voters. ComRes found that 25% of those who would vote Yes in an independence referendum, and 25% of those who voted SNP in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, think that treating the next UK General Election as a de-facto referendum is the wrong thing to do. Nearly two-thirds of Yessers and 59% of SNP voters thought it was right.

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Moreover, 10% of SNP voters said they would be less likely to vote for the SNP if they fight the next election as a de-facto referendum. Given the need to break 50% of the popular vote even to begin to make the case that an election grants an independence mandate, any leakage of votes could be disastrous.

On current polling, the SNP – even with the votes of other pro-independence parties, like the Scottish Greens and Alba – would likely fall short. Even if they don't, whether a pro-independence majority of votes is perceived as a mandate for independence is in doubt.

October polling by YouGov found that just 30% of Scots would support an independence declaration without a referendum if there is a pro-independence majority of the votes at the Scottish election. This rose marginally to 32% if the majority was SNP-only. In both cases, 55% were opposed.

There is no reason to think these figures would change if we were to ask about a UK General Election specifically.

The de-facto referendum may represent the SNP’s last roll of the die, but if it is, it looks like one the public opposes.