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Scottish nationalists set for record majority, boosting independence push

·2-min read
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, attends the First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh

LONDON (Reuters) - Scottish nationalists are on course to win a record majority in elections for Scotland's devolved parliament that would start a new push for independence, an opinion poll published on Thursday showed.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister and head of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, will claim a mandate for another independence referendum if her party performs strongly in the elections scheduled for May 6.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who would have to agree to a new referendum, has said there is no need for a new vote after independence was rejected by Scottish voters in 2014.

The SNP is expected to win 71 of 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, eight seats more than it won in the last election in 2016, according to the poll carried out by Savanta ComRes and published in The Scotsman newspaper.

The only other time the SNP has won a majority was in 2011 when it won 69 seats under former leader Alex Salmond.

If Scotland voted for independence it would mean the United Kingdom would lose about a third of its landmass and almost a tenth of its population - just as the world's sixth-biggest economy is grappling with the impact of Brexit.

Johnson's Conservative Party may lose 14 seats in the Scottish parliament and the opposition Labour Party may lose three, the poll found, leaving the Conservatives with 17 seats and the Labour Party with 21.

Scots voted 55-45% against independence in a referendum in 2014, but Brexit and the British government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for the SNP, with most polls showing a majority now favour breaking away.

The Savanta ComRes poll found 57% of people would vote for Scottish independence in a new referendum, close to a record high.

The poll was based on responses from 1,016 people in Scotland between Jan. 8 and 13.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by William Schomberg)