AFTER Dominic Cummings insulted the intelligence of the entire United Kingdom at his notorious Rose Garden press conference, a number of people suggested to me on social media that the time had come for my blog ScotGoesPop to crowdfund another poll on independence.
They were convinced it would show Yes was back in the lead. I was initially sceptical – it had been no time at all since Wings Over Scotland had commissioned an independence poll from Panelbase showing a 50/50 dead heat, and we knew from past history that even the most dramatic incidents sometimes fail to move the dial on indy in any way.
But I had a change of heart when I reflected on the substantial changes to the Britain-wide polling landscape that had been caused, at least in part, by the Cummings episode.
The Tory lead had been cut back sharply, and the approval ratings for both the UK Government and Boris Johnson had nosedived.
It was reasonable to assume there had been a similar impact on public opinion in Scotland, and that there was at least a chance that the effect would extend to the independence question. It was, in short, worth a punt.
And so it proved – the Yes vote has bounced back to the 52% recorded in the Panelbase poll I commissioned at the start of the year, when Britain’s departure from the European Union was still uppermost in people’s minds and when coronavirus seemed only a very distant threat. It’s true that Yes hasn’t fallen below 49% in the months since then, and that it’s possible the fluctuations are just margin of error “noise”.
However, in the days to come I’ll be releasing supplementary questions from the new poll which reveal that events during the pandemic have caused a remarkable change of public mood on independence and other constitutional matters.
My guess is that the increase in the Yes vote is very real, and that it can be mostly explained by the Cummings scandal and by the UK Government’s wider mishandling of the current crisis.
So a blow for the Tories, but the timing could hardly be worse for Labour, because the self-destructive hardening of their anti-indyref stance has coincided with a poll that once again shows that a significant minority – more than one-third – of the people who voted Labour in the General Election last year want Scotland to become an independent country.
If Keir Starmer has been persuaded by his Scottish lieutenant Ian Murray that Labour can’t possibly fall any further in Scotland, and that they have nothing to lose by trying to claw back votes from the Tories with a hardline Unionist position, these numbers should give him pause for thought.
Hypothetically, if Labour were to lose all their pro-indy support, it would leave them with a Unionist core vote of only around 12% or 13% to play with.
By contrast, Boris Johnson has the luxury of knowing that his party’s supporters are almost unanimous on the constitution – a mere 3% of Tory voters from December would now back Yes. But the Prime Minister may nevertheless be dismayed to discover that 34% of Leave voters are pro-indy.
There is, of course, a chunk of the population that voted Yes in 2014 and then Leave in 2016, and it’s clear from this poll that there is no conceivable path to a majority Yes coalition that doesn’t involve a sizeable number of tartan Brexiteers. But we may be pushing at an open door in that respect. In the poll results yet to come, we’ll see that Leave voters – even if few of them have changed their minds on the EU – have become increasingly alienated from London rule.