The SNP could win an outright majority at the Holyrood election on Thursday in a race said to be spreading fear through Downing Street.
Two polls put Nicola Sturgeon’s party on course for a conclusive win and suggest there will be gains for pro-independence Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba party.
The findings come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly preparing for a crisis meeting with key government ministers over a plan to boost spending to make the case for the union.
The plan would see billions spent on new road and rail links – a policy which could also lead to renewed tension over devolved government responsibilities.
The UK Government is also preparing for a potential court battle if the Scottish Parliament endorses proposals for a referendum.
The Prime Minister is said to be bracing for a bad result in Scotland, with a report in the Sunday Telegraph suggesting Mr Johnson’s team feel like they are in a “bare knuckle fight”.
There are only days to go before the knife-edge election, which has put a referendum squarely back on the agenda.
A poll BG Research, published in the Herald on Sunday newspaper, puts the SNP on 68 seats, enough for a majority administration in the 129-seat parliament.
The survey suggests Mr Salmond’s Alba party could pick up two places while the Greens would win nine seats.
Together, that gives pro-independence parties 79 seats out of 129, a result certain to lead to more pressure for a referendum.
The poll was based on 1,023 adults in Scotland between April 27 and 30.
It also found support for independence and the union is split 50/50.
‘Election on a knife edge’
A separate poll by Panelbase for The Sunday Times indicates the SNP could gain a majority of just one. Tories would remain in second place and Scottish Labour could fall back again despite a refresh under new leader Anas Sarwar.
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “This election is on a knife-edge, and the polls show that every single vote for the SNP will count as we work to secure a strong SNP government to kick-start our recovery from the pandemic, support our economy, and protect our NHS.”
In a message aimed at voters in the north-east, former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson drew attention to the tough fight her party is having with the SNP.
She said: “We all know Nicola Sturgeon will demand another referendum if the SNP win a majority. The focus will be on separation when it should be on recovery from the pandemic.
“An SNP-Green coalition at Holyrood could threaten tens of thousands of jobs by calling a premature halt to North Sea oil and gas production.”
Mr Salmond, standing on the North East regional list which takes in Aberdeen and Dundee, wants SNP voters to back him on the second ballot.
“Once the people of Scotland have spoken on Thursday no British Prime Minister will be able to stand in our way, if we make independence a priority for the here and now, not the hereafter.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie denied it is anti-democratic to block calls for a referendum if there is a majority for it.
“I’m against another referendum because I think it will distract the country at a time they need to build recovery,” he said on Sky News.
“If people vote for me on the basis that I’m clear – crystal clear – in an election campaign, it would be bizarre if I did the opposite after the election.”
Mr Sarwar said: “There is a stark choice in this election. Either we can go back to the old arguments, or we can have a parliament focused entirely on the national recovery.
“As we enter the last week of this election, it is clear that only Labour has the ambition and vision necessary to tackle this crisis and that the momentum is with Labour.