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By a Newsnet reporter

An exclusive poll for the New Statesman magazine by polling company ICD research, and published to coincide with the publication of the Scottish government's consultation paper on the independence referendum, shows that the independence case is making strong headway. 

According to the headline figures for the poll, 44% of Scots are in favour of independence, with 45% opposed.  The result is well within the normal margin of error for polls, meaning that the two options are effectively neck-and-neck as the campaign begins in earnest.

In other good news for the Scottish government, an overwhelming 72% of Scots polled say that they agree that the Scottish government alone should determine the timing and question of the historic referendum.  On this issue, public opinion in Scotland is markedly different from opinion in the rest of the UK.  Of those polled across the UK, 41% say that the question and timing should be determined by Westminster, with only 34% in agreement with the Scottish government's position that these are matters for the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland.

Amongst those across the UK, the poll found a majority in favour of Scottish independence, with 38% in favour as opposed to 34% against.  However most voters throughout the UK do not believe that Scotland will be better off as a result of independence, with only 20% of UK voters believing this would be the case, whereas 52% of UK-wide voters believe that Scotland would be worse off after independence.  The report in the New Statesman did not give the figures for the response of Scottish voters to this question.

Conversely, 36 per cent of UK voters believe that England would benefit if Scotland left the UK, compared with 34 per cent who believe it would suffer.  This finding shows the effect of the "subsidy junkie" myth which has been widely propagated by the anti-independence parties and the UK media.   One of the prime tasks of pro-independence campaigners will be to overturn this myth amongst the Scottish electorate.

The survey found clear support across the UK for so-called 'devo max'.  Asked if Scotland should be given full control over its tax and spending, 51% agreed with only 32% opposed.  Again the poll did not give a breakdown of the Scottish response to this question, although other polls recently have shown that there is widespread support for such a move within Scotland.    

The poll confirms the findings of other recent polls which show that Scots are increasingly leaning towards independence and restoring full control of the nation's finances and destiny to the Scottish Parliament.  With more than 2 years to go before the decision is taken, the final result is far too close to call and for the pro-independence camp there is everything to play for.  With a buoyant SNP up against demoralised and divided anti-independence parties, Scotland is closer to returning to its rightful place amongst the sovereign nations of the world than at any time during the past 300 years.

The poll of 1000 people was conducted by ICD for the New Statesman on 21st and 22nd January.

Welcoming the poll the Director of the SNP's Referendum Campaign Angus Robertson MP said:

"This is an excellent poll result confirming that support for independence is running neck and neck with 44% in favour to only 45% against.

"And coming on the day the First Minister confirmed the question voters in Scotland will be asked on independence this is just the beginning of the campaign and the great debate that we will have across the country.

"Results like this show that independence for Scotland is achievable and with more and more people supporting the principle that decisions about what happens in Scotland should be made by the people of Scotland it is a very welcome result."

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