SUPPORT for independence remained largely unchanged after the election of the new leader of the SNP – but the party is facing the problem of persuading Yes voters not to “flirt” with Labour, according to a leading pollster.

A total of four polls carried out ­after Humza Yousaf became First Minister found an average of 48% for Yes, similar to figures when Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation.

Professor John Curtice said that the fact support for independence hadn’t been affected so far was a ­“potential advantage”.

But the professor of politics at Strathclyde University also warned the SNP failing to persuade Yes ­voters to support them will ­“diminish the prospect of independence being delivered any time soon”.

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The polls published by Panelbase, Savanta, Redfield & Wilton Strategies and Survation, were also carried out before the arrest of former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and search of the home he shares with Sturgeon on Wednesday.

He was released without charge the same day pending further ­investigations.

Curtice said: “The polls have told us nothing has changed so far as ­independence support is ­concerned – the average level of support for ­independence in the four polls is 48%, which is what the same polls were saying when they last polled around the middle of February.

“But that is not the problem – the problem is the people who would vote for independence, some of them have stopped saying they are going to vote for the SNP.

“It is pretty clear there has been what might you most charitably call a reverse bounce as a result in the wake of Mr Yousaf’s election – so support for the SNP is averaging ­between 38 and 39% which is about 10 points adrift of the level of support for ­independence.”

Curtice said the two polls which show Westminster party support by current attitudes towards independence, 70% of Yes supporters say they will vote SNP compared to 88% around two years ago.

“It is the Labour Party which are mostly picking up the slack – just ­under 20% saying they are going to vote Labour,” he said.

“The rise in Labour support before Sturgeon’s resignation disproportionately occurred amongst those who were No supporters, as the party was profiting from the Conservative ­misfortune.

The National: John Curtice says polling on independence remains largely unchangedJohn Curtice says polling on independence remains largely unchanged

“It looks as if now Labour is ­making rather more ground amongst Yes ­supporters.”

So what would Holyrood look like according to the average four most recent polls?

The SNP would still be the ­largest party on 51 seats, but even an ­agreement bringing in the 10 seats predicted for the Greens would fall short of the 65 needed for a majority.

Labour would be on 36, with the Conservatives on 24 and Liberal Democrats on eight, while Alba was not included in all the polls.

Curtice said: “The SNP would still be the largest group, but they wouldn’t have a majority with the Greens, they would be back to 2007-11.

“If you make the not ­unreasonable assumption that the Labour Party would not allow themselves to be ­supported by the Tories, and that Labour and the LibDems probably don’t have enough, there probably isn’t any alternative to a minority SNP administration.

“But not one that will be in a ­position to pursue independence in any form or shape.”

There are still around 18 months to go before the UK General Election is expected which will fully test the opinion of voters. However, Curtice said Yousaf – who had been in need of a “good start” to his leadership – was now facing ­having to deal with a serious crisis about his party.

“Of course, there is a long way to go and the fact that support for ­independence hasn’t been affected so far is to potential advantage – but the challenge for the SNP at the ­moment isn’t trying to increase ­support for independence above 50%, it is to ­persuade the people who are in favour of independence that they shouldn’t be flirting with the Labour Party.”

Curtice argued the only realistic prospect of getting an independence referendum any time soon would be a hung parliament in which the SNP hold the balance of power.

But he said if the SNP decline in strength at Westminster, it is likely to increase the probability of Labour ­winning an overall majority, even if polls have show a slight decline in ­Labour’s lead over the Tories in recent weeks.

“The slight decline in that lead is more than wholly compensated for by the fact that if the Labour Party can pick up 16 seats in Scotland at the moment, you knock three points off the lead that Labour needs UK-wide in order to get an overall majority,” he said.

“So although support for independence might not be down, the fact the SNP cannot get Yes ­supporters to vote for them does diminish the ­prospect of independence being ­delivered any time soon.”