Belize's very own unelected billionaire representative in the UK Parliament, Lord Ashcroft, has started a new series of GB-wide telephone polls. The results of the first one should strike terror into the heart of anyone contemplating a No vote in the independence referendum, because it shows the Conservative Party taking an outright lead for the first time in any poll for two years.
Liberal Democrats 9%
Of course Ashcroft does not have his own polling organisation that actually conducts fieldwork, so just like the PSO referendum poll at the weekend, this poll was actually conducted by others. The layout of the datasets looks very similar to Populus and Comres, so that may (or may not) be a clue.
This turn of events has been on the cards for some time. After the Budget, the Labour lead in the daily YouGov polls plunged to almost nothingness, but then recovered somewhat, leading some commentators to assume that there had merely been a temporary Budget boost for the Tories that was of no real consequence. But in truth it now looks as if it was the Labour recovery that was illusory. A succession of YouGov polls last week put the Labour lead at somewhere between one and three points, and although there was one at the weekend that showed a bigger lead, that had the look of an outlier. It seemed it was only a matter of time before at least one poll from at least one firm showed a Tory lead, and it's finally happened.
I put a question mark after the word "crossover" in the title of this post, partly because one swallow does not a summer make, and partly because this is only the first in a series of polls - it may be there's something weird about the Ashcroft methodology that helps the Tories. Only time will tell. But this could just as easily be the start of a pattern, with some polls showing a very narrow Labour lead, some polls showing a dead heat, and others showing a Tory lead.
If so, what could be the impact on the independence referendum? A number of different pollsters have asked a hypothetical question about how people's vote might be affected if it looked like the Tories were heading for victory in the general election. They've produced wildly different results - some have pointed to an outright Yes lead in those circumstances, and others have shown No in a decent lead. But the one thing they all agree on is that the Yes vote would be significantly higher than it currently is.
John Curtice always cautions us that voters are very bad at judging what their opinion would be in a hypothetical set of circumstances. For example, questions along the lines of "who would you vote for if X was leader of X party?" often produce results that bear little resemblance to what actually happens when that person becomes leader. But it should be remembered that the uncertainty works both ways - it could be that voters would swing even more sharply to Yes in the event of a clear Tory lead than they currently realise.
The fly in the ointment is, as ever, UKIP's likely (but not certain) victory in the forthcoming European elections. In the afterglow of that result, it's possible that some Tory voters who are currently planning to 'lend' their vote to UKIP for the European elections only could temporarily start telling pollsters that they will vote UKIP for Westminster as well, thus generating the illusion of a bigger Labour lead for a while.