A new ICM poll for The Scotsman puts support for independence at an eight year high of 51%.

The SNP – already boosted by yesterday’s publicity victory on Iraq – are on course to make big gains in next May’s Scottish Parliamentary elections:

"The SNP would win more votes than Labour on the first, constituency, vote – 32 per cent to 30 per cent – and the two parties would be tied on 28 per cent for the second, list, vote.  This would give the SNP 37 seats, up ten from 2003, and Labour 41, down nine from 2003."

The SNP would need to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats and Greens in order to be able to govern.  The LibDems are set for big gains and may end up with 25 seats.  The good news for Tories nationwide is that this might help to keep the ineffective Ming Campbell in place as leader.

The poll confirms that ‘the Cameron effect’ is not reaching Scotland:

"Today’s poll indicates that the Tories will lose one seat, down from 18 to 17, and will lose votes, down 2 per cent on the constituencies and down 1 per cent on the regional lists."

Next May will be a difficult period for David Cameron.  The party may fare slightly better in elections for the Welsh Assembly but a no-progress result in Scotland will overshadow the gains Conservatives are seeing in England.

The consolation for the embattled Annabel Goldie is that the Tories will make gains in Scottish local government.  The move from election by first-past-the-post to proportional representation (via single transferable vote) will produce the election of many new Tory councillors and probably give those councillors the balance of power in some local authorities.

Murdo Fraser is the favourite to assume the leadership of Scotland’s Tories once the elections are over.

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