Golden child no more? Salmond under fire as SNP conference kicks off

Alex Salmond was trying to rally his troops on the first day of the SNP conference today, despite political storms breaking out in all directions.

The first minister was fighting to avoid a party rebellion on the all-important issue of Nato membership, while dealing with an attack from Gordon Wilson, one of his predecessors, who branded his plans to legalise gay marriage "fascist".

The rows came as opinion polls showed support for Scottish independence continues to fall, ahead of a referendum campaign agreed by Salmond and David Cameron this week.

The most pressing matter on Salmond's plate is the Nato vote, which he needs to paint a convincing picture of an independent Scotland's security arrangements post-referendum.

The party remains officially opposed to Nato, but a motion to the conference would change this policy – albeit on the condition it does not "host nuclear weapons".

That caveat is hugely significant to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which relies on Scottish waters for the Trident submarine.

Giving evidence to a Commons committee this week, MoD defence chiefs said the alliance agreed this May it would remain "a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist".

The Clyde-based nuclear deterrent forms a key part of the UK, French and US strategic concept envisaged by the alliance.

Meanwhile, polling showed a continued decline in support for independence.

An Ipsos MORI Scottish Public Opinion Monitor for The Times found just 30% of those certain to vote in the referendum agree Scotland should be an independent country – down five points since June and nine points since January.

Support for the union increased, with 58% of Scots saying they would vote ‘no’ in the referendum – an increase of three points since June and eight points since January.

Support for independence is highest among those living in Scotland’s most deprived areas (43%), men (37%) and those aged 35-54 (35%).

Conversely, women (24%), those aged 18-24 (27%) and 55+ (27%), and those living in Scotland’s more affluent areas (23%) are the least likely to vote ‘Yes’.

Salmond remains the most popular leader in Scotland but there has been considerable decline in his ratings, with his net satisfaction score falling 25% since last December.