A MAJORITY of voters would back independence if Boris Johnson becomes prime minister and pursues a no deal Brexit, according to one of the country’s leading pollsters.

Mark Diffley, former director of Ipsos Mori Scotland, who now runs his own polling company, said a number of opinion polls indicated most Scots would back the country becoming independent if the UK left the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.

“The big thing as far as Boris Johnson, or the other hard Brexit types is if one of them become prime minister, is if they pursue leaving the EU without a negotiated deal,” he said.

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“That would create a majority for independence. There is polling evidence to suggest a no-deal Brexit would ramp up support for independence and get it over the 50%. It is less about him as a person, about how he would go down with voters and more about what the impact of something he supports would be coming to pass.”

Diffley, who is polling adviser to Progress Scotland, a research company set up by former SNP deputy Angus Robertson, added: “So for me, the thing to watch out for in the leadership race, at least in the immediate term is the eventual winner’s stance on the type of Brexit we are likely to get rather than on whether people in Scotland like him or her. The key factor is really about where they stand on Brexit.”

In December, Panelbase research for The Sunday Times indicated that 59% of voters would prefer independence to a no-deal Brexit.

A Panelbase poll for the Wings Over Scotland website in mid March indicated that 52% of people would prefer independence to a no-deal exit.

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Tory leadership contenders Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab have both said they are willing to back a no-deal Brexit.

They are the two favourites among the Tory grassroots to succeed May, with Johnson the frontrunner.

The former foreign secretary told a conference in Switzerland on Friday, just hours after May’s statement of resignation as Tory leader: “We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal. The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal.”

Under the Tory rules, Conservative MPs vote on candidates in a series of rounds, whittling down the contenders to the final two names which then go a ballot of all party members.

There has been speculation that some Tory MPs from the centre right may try to organise the election in such a way to stop a hard Brexiteer’s name being presented to party members to vote on.

On Monday the group of One Nation Tory MPs, who include Amber Rudd, Damian Green and Rory Stewart, met in a bid to try and stop the party moving further to the right after May departs.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has long been a vocal critic of Johnson, condemning comments he made comparing women wearing burkas with bank robbers and making clear he wasn’t welcome at her party’s conference in Aberdeen last month.

However, in an interview with the Scottish Daily Express this Wednesday, she signalled a change of heart saying she could work with him.

A senior Scottish Tory told The National he believed Davidson’s U-turn on Johnson was prompted by fears over a grassroots’ backlash.

He suggested if Tory MPs ended up stopping his name from appearing on the final leadership election ballot, Johnson could switch to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, taking Tory members with him.

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“I am still not convinced Boris has an overall parliamentary majority. But the fear is that if he is not one of the final two people that are selected by the 1922 committee under the leadership ballot, if he is not selected as one of the final two which party members vote on, there is a real fear he may defect from the party and join forces with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

“That rumour is gaining purchase in Parliament. Boris is only interested in Boris.”

Asked for the view of the Scottish Conservatives, if Johnson became PM, the insider said: “Frankly it depends on how he performs as PM. As London mayor he was quite popular. But if he drags Britain out of the EU on a no-deal basis and that will have a catastrophic effect on our economy. I think that will go down very badly in many parts of Britain, not least Scotland.

“If he finds a way of resolving the differences in the Tory Party and the divisions that have occurred right across society, he could be a Churchillian figure. But that is a big ask.”

He added: “If he supports a no-deal Brexit and it ends up causing a catastrophic slump to the British economy then of course support for independence could go up.”

Brexiteers believe Johnson will be able to force the EU to blink, under the threat of a looming no-deal Brexit, and renegotiate the Irish border backstop.

But it is likely that European figures would not be sympathetic to any requests by Johnson for concessions.

In Brussels, Johnson is not forgiven for his role in the Brexit campaign or for likening the EU to the Third Reich. Earlier this month European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker singled out Johnson’s Vote Leave bus claims that Britain sends £350 million to Brussels every week for scorn.

The former foreign secretary has been repeatedly called a liar by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is set against a further Brexit extension on October 31.

There is currently no majority in Parliament to support a no-deal Brexit, however it could happen by “accident” as it remains the default situation if the UK does not request a further Brexit extension before October – or the EU does not grant one.