Professor Curtice, who teaches at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, said the election result was an inadequate way of judging support for a second poll. Instead, the professor said, two polls done during the election campaign were a better way of quantifying public feeling towards the policy. In a blog on his website What Scotland Thinks, Professor Curtice said using the number of seats to claim a mandate does not take into account the effect of the first past the post system, and how it calculates seats from votes
Neither, the blog said, should the SNP claim a mandate based on share of the vote at the December election because voters may not have agreed with the SNP stance on the referendum, but still voted for them regardless.
The SNP won 47 seats in the December vote, an increase of 12 from their previous tally, leading to senior figures in the party claiming it is time for a second independence referendum.
A week later, the First Minister formally asked for the powers to hold a referendum from the Prime Minister, something he rejected this week.
However, Professor Curtice claims in his blog that two polls conducted during the election campaign present a better picture of attitudes towards another referendum than the general election.
He said: “One of these polls came from Ipsos MORI, the other from Panelbase.
The former asked people whether they supported or opposed holding another independence referendum within the next year.
“While 42% said that they supported the idea, as many as 50% indicated that they were opposed.
“Meanwhile, Panelbase reported that only 38% backed the idea of holding a referendum before the next Scottish Parliament election, while as many as 51% were opposed.
“On the basis of this evidence it is difficult to argue that there is a clear majority support for holding a referendum on the timescale proposed by the Scottish Government.”
Professor Curtice concluded that the fate of another vote hinges on the public reaction to Brexit, which could push more people into support for another vote – as was evident in the wake of the 2016 vote.
He added: “Does it result in a further swing in favour of independence beyond that already in evidence last year such that the polls start to register majority support for the idea on a regular basis?
“If so, it can be anticipated that a majority for holding another ballot is likely to emerge too.
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“Or does the UK government persuade people north of the border Brexit is going to work out to the country’s advantage.
“In this case maybe the increased support for independence that was in evidence last year could melt away, and with it support for another ballot.
“Neither side in the debate can be sure of what the answers to these crucial questions will be.”
The polling guru’s views comes as a second blow to the Scottish First Minister after reports of the fiscal differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Scotland’s superior deficit performance came to an end 30 years ago and for the past ten years the picture has been one of significant deteriorations relative to the rest of the UK.
According to the Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland (GERS), in 2018-19, the country ran a budget deficit of 7 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 1.1 percent for the whole of the UK.
Scotland’s revenue per head, even including a geographic share of North Sea revenues, was £11,531, compared with £11,838 for the whole of the UK.
Moreover, Scotland’s public expenditure per head is significantly higher than the whole of the UK – £13,854 versus £12,193.