THE de facto referendum strategy unveiled by Nicola Sturgeon has triggered massive debate which is being reflected in the polls.

The new findings from the Find Out Now survey, conducted for The National, shows 52% of voters say they would back the SNP if the next General Election was used as an independence vote.

It’s one of a series of polls to be carried out on the issue which have revealed a mixed picture.

In December, Ipsos found 53% would be likely to back the SNP, similar to the latest findings, while a Survation poll put the party’s share of the vote at just 43%.

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Pollster Mark Diffley said while the SNP would be delighted to secure 52%, the different findings reflected the uncertainty voters currently felt.

He said: “The [SNP] have never got to 50% before in a General Election, even with the high watermark of 2015 they fell slightly short, which speaks to the scale of the challenge.

“We are still probably at least 18 months out from a General Election, if not slightly longer – we could be two years out.

"Asking how people will vote in an election at this point is a standard question – factoring in this hypothetical makes it a bit more difficult to judge the mood, but the bouncing around of the numbers here probably speaks to the uncertainty that people have.”

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Diffley said the polls pointed to a lack of certainty the SNP would achieve in their goal, but also suggested it is possible for the party to succeed.

“If when we get to an election and this is still their strategy, then aligning support for independence – which is polling quite well at the moment – with party support in a more obvious way is a risky but potentially fruitful strategy,” he said.

“As we get closer if this remains their strategy, there is some evidence to suggest it is possible to do – but there are some inherent risks in terms of public opinion.

“The evidence is pretty inconclusive as to what the polling viability of this strategy would be at this point.”

READ MORE: Support for independence at 54%: what the latest polling tells us

Leading polling expert Professor John Curtice said the 52% support for the de facto referendum was linked to the findings of the Find Out Now poll showing a lead in support for independence.

“Back in 2011 when the SNP got their overall majority, that was on the back of about 40% of people who were in favour of devolution, but not independence, voting for the party," he said. 

“Those days are over – so if you get an opinion poll in which 54% of people say Yes [to independence] you have got a pretty good change that same poll is going to get over 50% of people saying they would vote for the SNP.”

Curtice also said elections in Scotland had essentially already been de facto referendums for some time, in terms of people of whether people vote for the SNP or not.

He said there was the question of what would happen next if the SNP won more than 50% of the vote.

“The SNP can call the next election a de facto referendum – nobody else has to take any notice of that, it will add to the moral suasion of the case,” he said.

“The honest truth is that the real opportunity for the SNP to get a referendum rests on whether or not we get a hung parliament in which the SNP hold the balance of power.

“The problem the SNP have at the moment is the Labour party might be able to get an overall majority in which case – even if the SNP gets more than 50% in whether they call it a mandate for a referendum or a mandate for negotiations – the Labour party can say bye bye if they want to."

He added: “If you get more than 50% of the vote you will probably get the vast bulk of the seats in Scotland, you then have to think about how you would use the position at Westminster in a parliament in which a government has an overall majority.

“You certainly need think about how are going to play it.”