Opposition parties have responded to a poll showing a Yes vote for independence leading a No vote by saying the First Minister should stop “ducking and diving” and get on with the referendum.
The survey – the latest in a series of 10 identical snapshots by TNS-BMRB, revealed exclusively by The Herald yesterday – put those in favour of Scotland breaking from the rest of the UK ahead by 39% to 38%, only the second time this has happened in the series and the first time for more than three years.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “It is no surprise that, after the SNP winning a majority, many Scots are thinking about our constitutional future, and that is right.
“We saw a similar effect after the SNP first formed a government in 2007.
“The SNP is going to hold a referendum and the important thing is that it stops ducking and diving on the date, the question, and what it means by separation.”
He added: “The people of Scotland have a right to know what exactly the SNP is proposing, and to debate those plans for separation with all the information necessary.
“After four years and several White Papers, it is just not credible for Alex Salmond to claim he cannot answer the basic questions.”
Echoing those sentiments, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “This poll confirms that independence is closer than ever before, with there now being a real danger than Scotland could split from the rest of the UK.
“The SNP has successfully created a warm fuzzy glow about how Scotland would perform as a separate country but has failed to provide any of the detail as to the costs of that separation.
“It has so far refused to answer the six big questions on independence posed last week but it cannot duck and dive for ever.”
The Scottish Tories, now in the middle of a leadership battle, did not respond but a Downing Street spokesman insisted: “The Prime Minister’s position on the Union is clear.
“He has said on a number of occasions that he would make the case for it again and again.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “We welcome this poll showing a majority for independence and showing growing numbers of people in Scotland are determined this country should aspire to a better future, taking responsibility for our own affairs.
“Clearly, the attacks on independence in recent days from the Westminster Tory and LibDem Coalition Government – far from making a positive case for the Union – have backfired badly and boomeranged on them.
“The UK Government has so far refused to respect the result of the Scottish election in May, in terms of the need for more powers, and has resorted to recycling old scare stories instead.
“The people of Scotland do not respond well to such scare stories and the fact that negative campaigning does not work was one of the essential lessons of the recent Scottish election, but the Unionist parties do not seem to have learned from that.
“The more that Scotland is talked down to, the more the people of Scotland will set their sights on a better future.”
The TNS-BMRB has used the wording suggested in the White Paper four years ago to ask people on a straight agree/disagree basis.
Apart from the headline figures of the 39%-38% lead for independence, the high level of undecideds, at 23%, would make a referendum campaign all to play for.
The poll showed greatest hostility to independence in Lothian and the south of Scotland, where opposition is still some 15 to 16 points ahead.
Support among men is higher than among women by 43% to 36% and peaks between the ages of 34 and 44 at 47% compared with 32% against.