The Scottish electorate is not making clear-cut distinctions between devolution and independence, according to political experts at Edinburgh University.
Alice Brown and David McCrone of the university's governance of Scotland forum, giving one of the annual Lothian European lectures, revealed the findings of surveys by Edinburgh researchers for the Economic and Social Research Council.
Professor Brown said that about four in ten voters wanted independence, but about 60 per cent of Scots expected independence to come within 20 years.
"This means it is not unthinkable for most people. Nothing is inevitable in politics, and it's up to the electorate to decide, but it can't simply be kept off the political agenda.'' Professor McCrone said Scots had more left-of-centre values and policy preferences than other parts of the United Kingdom and were more in favour of paying higher taxes for better services.
They had voted for a Scottish parliament because they expected it to improve their lives, and while they expected taxes to rise, they also expected the revenue to be "spent wisely" on areas such as education, health and welfare.
He predicted that voters would distinguish between Westminster and Holyrood in their support for particular parties. Studies in Barcelona showed that nationalists won 40 per cent of the vote and socialists 25 per cent in regional Catalonian elections, but the votes were reversed for national Spanish elections.