Support for Scottish independence holds up as elections near

·2 min read
Scottish leader Sturgeon demands a post-Brexit independence referendum

LONDON (Reuters) - Support for Scottish independence appears to be holding up despite a quarrel between politicians that has splintered the nationalist camp in the run-up to elections in May, polls suggested on Thursday.

An Opinium poll found that, should a referendum take place now, voters would opt for independence by 51% to 49%, while another poll by Savanta ComRes found those for and against independence tied on 45% with the rest undecided.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is hoping to lead her Scottish National Party (SNP) to outright victory in elections to the Scottish parliament on May 6, which she says would give her a mandate to demand a referendum.

The British government opposes that, arguing that the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted by 55% to 45% to remain in the United Kingdom. But London may find it harder to block a referendum if the SNP triumphs in May.

Sturgeon's party is up against the Conservatives and Labour, who oppose independence, but also faces a challenge from a new party, Alba, founded by her predecessor as first minister and SNP leader, Alex Salmond.

Once powerful allies in the cause of independence, Salmond and Sturgeon have turned against each other in the wake of a scandal in which Salmond was accused of sexual harassment by several women.

The Opinium poll suggested that despite months of negative headlines about the feud, the SNP was on track to win a majority of seats in the Scottish parliament and that Alba was struggling to make a dent.

The Savanta ComRes poll, however, suggested that the SNP would narrowly fall short of a majority because of Alba splitting the nationalist vote.

Under that scenario, the SNP would still be able to run Scotland's semi-autonomous government with support from the Greens, who also back independence. But Sturgeon's hand would be weaker in negotiations with London over a potential referendum.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Sarah Young)