Even when Alex Salmond first set his target of twenty Westminster seats, I think most of us knew that twelve or fifteen - arguably even ten - would be a fantastic result for the SNP. Of course, there's a strong case for saying that by aiming even higher you make it more likely that good things will happen, but the downside was always that the unionist parties were just waiting for something to add to the 'Free by 93' file of over-optimistic predictions to be recited back ad infinitum. However, I think we can now cross the Liberal Democrats off the list of unionist parties that will be reciting it back, at least without blushing. On the strength of the latest Scotland on Sunday poll - which let's not forget still has the Lib Dems in third place, 4% down on their 2005 showing - Tavish's Tearaways have just rashly declared that they are on course to win seventeen Scottish seats.
In a lot of ways, this is much more of a hostage to fortune than Salmond's target ever was, simply because seventeen is such a peculiarly specific number. Twenty can be explained away afterwards as an approximate ballpark figure, but seventeen makes it sound like - indeed by all accounts it does actually mean - that they know exactly which seventeen seats they expect to win. When they fall well short of that mark (and in spite of the events of recent days I'm almost certain they will do) they'll doubtless be asked to remind us of the constituencies in question, and explain why they failed in each case. Or, then again, perhaps everyone will just conveniently forget the prediction was ever made - after all, this was the party that informed us in the afterglow of their 2005 success that Nicol Stephen was the next First Minister of Scotland.