Boris Johnson in Downing Street is likely to give support for Scottish independence a boost, according to experts.
Johnson remains front-runner to become Prime Minister, a race which will be decided when the result of a poll of Tory members is revealed in three weeks’ time.
A recent Panelbase poll found support for independence would jump to 53% if Johnson became leader, giving the Yes campaign a six-point lead.
That prompted former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to warn the Union was more at risk than it has ever been.
Yesterday Johnson and Hunt both appeared before Conservative members at hustings in Carlisle.
Leading polling expert Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said without the question of Johnson being Prime Minister, the survey would have shown support for the yes and no vote evenly balanced.
Many Scottish Conservatives – including leader Ruth Davidson – have thrown their weight behind Johnson’s leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, who has vowed never to allow the break-up of the UK.
Davidson last week challenged Johnson to apply his pledge to “do or die” on Brexit – a promise to get the UK out of Europe by October 31 no matter what – to preserving the Union instead.
Andy Maciver, director of political and media consultancy Message Matters, said there was no doubt Johnson as Prime Minister would benefit the independence movement.
He said: “He is the perfect Tory candidate for Nicola Sturgeon because it is all the things the SNP want a Tory to be – southern, rich, English nationalist and Leave campaigner.”
Professor James Mitchell, chairman in public policy at Edinburgh University, said there would not automatically be a massive surge in support for independence and much of the impact would result from his handling of Brexit.
Voters in Edinburgh’s Parliament Square tell us what they think about Boris Johnson in Number 10:Inde
Janey Read, 61
I think it will be catastrophic. I don’t trust him. I’m Scottish but I am also British and I’d like it to stay together. I will stay a no voter but I fear others would vote yes with Boris in charge.
Eireann Fletcher, 20, sales adviser
I wasn’t old enough to vote in the last referendum but if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister it would push me to vote yes.
Thomas Wilson, 29, musician
I think Boris would be a terrible decision. It would ruin the economy. He wants a hard Brexit and I think that will accelerate independence.
Andy Marjoribanks, 59, tourist guide
I’m not keen for independence – I’ll remain a no voter but Boris doesn’t help, and I say that as a Conservative voter.
Michael Grubb, 51, street cleaner
I voted yes and Scotland voted no. I accepted that but Boris as Prime Minister would make me weigh up my options.
Agne Zainyte, 23, student
I didn’t vote last time but if he becomes Prime Minister, it would make me more likely to vote for independence.
Laura Hopgood, 36, recruiter
Boris has a certain presence but as a prime minister I think he will land us in sticky waters. I’m against independence whoever the prime minister is.
Hamish Allan, 70, tour guide
I’m fed up with the whole thing. I voted no. The question of independence is far bigger than who becomes PM.
David Black, 50, company director
Society is split. Unless the Conservative Party changes its ideology, they’re not going to bring both sides together. I voted yes and won’t change that.
Phoebe Cooper, 29, student
Having someone like Boris Johnson in charge would be concerning. I wasn’t in Scotland during the last vote but I think independence makes sense.