“As a direct result of the pro-UK vote splitting and some votes going to small parties, the SNP are on course for a majority and the nationalists on course for a ‘super-majority’ that they would use to hold another referendum. “It is now mission-critical for the future of the United Kingdom that we unite if we’re going to stop an SNP majority. It has never been more important that pro-UK voters stick together, just like we did in 2016.
“As a direct result of the pro-UK vote splitting and some votes going to small parties, the SNP are on course for a majority and the nationalists on course for a ‘super-majority’ that they would use to hold another referendum.
“It is now mission critical for the future of the United Kingdom that we unite if we’re going to stop an SNP majority.
“It has never been more
important that pro-UK voters stick together, just like we did in 2016.
“Analysis shows that backing the biggest opposition party is our only option to stop an SNP majority.
“No matter who you support in your own constituency – and I want people to vote for their local Conservative candidate – the only way to stop an SNP majority is by using your party list vote for the Scottish Conservatives.”
The Daily Express’s Unite The Kingdom crusade is making the positive case for strengthening the ties between all parts of the UK.
The Panelbase poll also triggered alarm about growing support for the Alliance for Unity party set up by the hard-Left MP George Galloway. It suggested Mr Galloway could snatch a seat, something pro-Union campaigners fear could help the nationalist cause by further dividing the anti-separatist vote.
An analysis of the poll, carried out by Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University, put the Scottish Conservatives on 24 seats, Scottish Labour on 20 and the Liberal Democrats on five.
In the constituency vote, the SNP was on 49%, the Tories on 22, Labour on 20 and the Lib Dems 6.
For the regional list vote, the SNP was on 39, The Tories 21, Labour 17, the Greens 8, Alba 6, the Lib Dems 5 and All for Unity 4.
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown said: “This poll shows that giving anything less than both votes to the SNP means gambling with Scotland’s future.
“These serious times require serious leadership, and people across the country can put their trust in the experience of Nicola Sturgeon as we move through the pandemic and towards a strong, secure recovery.”
Panelbase surveyed 1,009 adults between March 30 and April 1.
Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that the pandemic may have boosted support for independence by making people think “about the benefit of self-government”.
The SNP leader insisted that if she could “change things” so that the virus had never happened, and that support for independence was lower, she would “trade any day”.
She said: “If I could change things so we never had had Covid and support for independence wasn’t quite as high, I would trade any day.
“But people have, at a time of crisis, looked to their own government here in Scotland to lead, and they won’t have agreed with every decision we have taken at times, but at a time of crisis I think what we have seen is that natural inclination of people to look to their own democratically elected government.
“And perhaps that has made people think about the benefit of self-government, and it may well be that that is having some kind of impact in the polls.”
The First Minister flatly denied that the success of Scotland’s vaccination programme was down to being part of the UK. She said: “I find that a facile and actually kind of insulting argument.
“The rollout is a tribute to the brilliance of our scientists and the utter magnificence of the NHS operation to get it into people’s arms.
“Yes, we procure on a UK basis, and the UK has successfully procured, but the idea that that would have been different if either the UK had still be in the EU or Scotland had been independent, just doesn’t really bear any scrutiny.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Ms Sturgeon of using the pandemic as a “recruiting tool”.
He said: “It’s even more galling when the truth is that she didn’t handle this pandemic any better than others. The SNP has built a false reputation based on spin.
“The SNP Government came into this pandemic unprepared. There wasn’t enough PPE for frontline staff, testing and tracing wasn’t done well enough and, worst of all, many of our most vulnerable people were sent to care homes after testing positive.
“It’s not a record anyone should be proud of – and it’s shameful to campaign for another divisive independence referendum on its coattails.”