Fewer than a third of Tory activists believe that an independent Scotland would cause “serious damage” to the rest of the UK, a new poll has found.
More than two-thirds believe that a break-away would be either positive, have no real significant impact on England, Wales and Northern Ireland or would be ‘manageable’.
And 29% of the Conservative grassroots members would actually welcome Scots independence because it would end “unreasonable demands on England to provide ever greater financial and political concessions” to Holyrood.
The survey, conducted by the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University though the ConservativeHome website, also found that 73% of English Tory activists believe that the devolution settlement since 1999 has been ‘harmful for England’.
The findings - seen by one academic as pointing to the slow death of the ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ - come as Theresa May prepares to address the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow on Friday.
The Prime Minister is also braced for demands from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for a second independence referendum as soon as Brexit is formally triggered at the end of this month.
More than two in three Tory party members polled believed that Tony Blair’s creation of a Scottish government and Parliament has been harmful to England. And among Party members in England alone - who made up 90% of respondents - that proportion rises to 93%.
Some two-thirds would not want Teresa May to offer any new financial or policy powers to the Scottish government during any second referendum.
The idea of a new ‘vow’ - similar to that offered by David Cameron to fend off the SNP campaign in 2014 - to persuade voters to stay with the union is clearly unpopular.
But the most striking finding appears to be that a significant chunk of grassroots Tories are sanguine about full-blown Scots independence.
Some 16% of English activists believe the break-up would have no real significance for the rest of the UK, while a further 23% believe any problems could be manageable.
When asked if the UK Government should offer the Scottish government further financial support, policy powers or involvement in foreign policy in the course of a referendum campaign, 68% of English respondents would rule out any further powers.
A further 28% would support further policy devolution, and less than 4% would support either further financial support or involvement in foreign policy.
The survey also showed a significant correlation between activists’ sense of national identity and their attitudes towards the Union of England and Scotland.
A total of 83% of ’English only’ activists believe devolution has been harmful to England, but just 61% of those who identified themselves as ‘British’ agreed.
Which of the following would best summarise your view of the end of the Union?
It would inflict serious damage on the power, influence and well-being of the remaining parts of the UK - 33%
It would finally end the unreasonable demands on England to provide ever-greater financial and political concessions to Scotland - 29%
It would not be in the best interests of the remaining parts of the UK but that any problems could be managed - 22%
It would be a shame to lose the history and association but it would have no real significance for the remaining parts of the U.K - 15%
Professor John Denham, former Labour MP and now Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics, told HuffPost UK that the results suggested a new mood in the Conservative party.
“Even allowing for the self-selection of respondents to this survey, it is likely to provide a fair reflection of the broad views of Conservative activists,” he said.
“It is striking how few Conservative activists display a whole-hearted commitment to the Union and to the retention of Scotland within it.
“The attitudes of Conservative activists - particularly those in England - differ significantly from the Prime Minister’s very public commitment to the Union, and could be characterised as an English National Conservative Party rather than the Conservative and Unionist Party.
“Most Conservatives would appear to want the Prime Minister to take ‘take it or leave’ approach to a second referendum and to avoid a repeat of the ‘Vow’ made by UK party leaders in the 2014 referendum.
“The growing influence of national identity in politics is apparent from the markedly more hostile attitudes towards the Union shown by activists who feel predominantly English to those who feel predominantly British.”
Paul Goodman, co-editor of ConservativeHome.com, said: “I believe the ‘Just About Unionist’ label would not fairly represent these findings, but that they certainly expose a soft underbelly of English nationalism among Party members.
“And while most would not welcome the break-up of the UK, the replies suggest those members think that, when it comes to the devolution of further powers, Theresa May should draw a line in the sand - or across the border, if you prefer.”
Last week, Tony Blair said that Brexit would make Scottish independence “much more credible” with Scots voters keen to retain in the European Union.
The survey had 870 member replies, according to Winchester University.