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SNP chaos in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon’s departure is good for the union as the race for the next party leader begins, poll shows

Scottish independence is a more distant prospect in the wake of Nicola Sturgeon’s departure, many voters believe.

It came as three candidates were yesterday confirmed in the race to succeed her as SNP leader.

A survey found that one in three adults (31 per cent) across the UK believe Ms Sturgeon’s resignation last week has made it less likely that Scotland will vote to go it alone.

By contrast just one in five in the Savanta poll thought independence was more likely once the First Minister and SNP leader had gone. It comes as Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf all secured enough backing to get their names on the ballot paper yesterday.

The survey results suggest whoever wins will have an uphill struggle to wrestle back momentum for independence.

So far the contest has focused on the candidates’ religious beliefs and social views. A new leader will be announced on March 27.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes became the early frontrunner but her campaign was almost derailed when, under scrutiny over her membership of the deeply conservative Free Church of Scotland, she admitted opposing gay marriage as well as saying it was wrong to have children out of wedlock.

Health Secretary Mr Yousaf, seen as Ms Sturgeon’s anointed successor, overtook her as bookies’ favourite but although he insists that he supports equal marriage despite his Muslim faith, he has also faced claims that he came ‘under pressure from the mosque’ to skip a crucial vote on the topic.

The final candidate to launch her campaign was Ash Regan, who pitched herself as a unity candidate – even though she quit Ms Sturgeon’s government in protest at the controversial attempt to allow ‘self-ID’ for transgender people as young as 16.

An early poll by The Big Partnership found that many SNP voters had not yet decided who to back but the largest proportion who had chosen, 28 per cent, supported Miss Forbes.

Both Labour and the Conservatives believe the departure of Ms Sturgeon from the stage will boost their chances at the next general election as well as the unionist cause.

Ash Regan (pictured) pitched herself as a unity candidate - even though she quit Ms Sturgeon¿s government in protest at the controversial attempt to allow ¿self-ID¿ for transgender people as young as 16

Ash Regan (pictured) pitched herself as a unity candidate – even though she quit Ms Sturgeon’s government in protest at the controversial attempt to allow ‘self-ID’ for transgender people as young as 16 

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf (pictured) insists that he supports equal marriage despite his Muslim faith. He has also faced claims that he came ¿under pressure from the mosque¿ to skip a crucial vote on the topic

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf (pictured) insists that he supports equal marriage despite his Muslim faith. He has also faced claims that he came ‘under pressure from the mosque’ to skip a crucial vote on the topic

And on Thursday night there was an early glimmer of hope for Labour as it took a council seat in Aberdeen from the SNP with a significant swing.

Aberdeen Labour celebrated the by-election win of Graeme Lawrence, whose email address in leaflets given to voters referred to himself as ‘Handsome Granda’, with the message: ‘Labour is the change that Scotland needs – we’re coming for the SNP.’

The Savanta poll found opinion was split over whether Ms Sturgeon had left her country a better place at the end of her eight-year tenure, with the same proportion (42 per cent) saying she had improved it as not.

Perhaps unsurprisingly she was more popular north of the border with 54 per cent of Scottish adults believing her time in charge had gone well, including 20 per cent who called it an overwhelming success.

Across the UK more than half of those questioned (56 per cent) thought she had made the right decision to resign.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: ‘Our recent polling in both the UK and Scotland specifically speaks to the influence Nicola Sturgeon has had on the political challenges the union faces in the 21st century.

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‘Her impact has been widespread, and although she is seen more favourably in Scotland compared to the UK as a whole, there’s no sense that she’s a pantomime villain south of the border, and has garnered plenty of respect and admirers.’

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