As things stand, it looks possible that we're going to face a long-running indyref-style lack of clarity over the true state of play in the EU referendum. The small number of telephone polls that we've seen have tended to show significantly bigger leads for the "stay in" option than online polls have. That pattern continues today with a YouGov internet poll that shows a relatively small gap, and one that has tightened very slightly -
If there was a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and this was the question, how would you vote:
Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?
Yes 44% (-1)
No 36% (n/c)
Admittedly the percentage change figures should be treated with caution, because YouGov have completely changed their question, to bring it more into line with what seems to be the government's current intentions. It's also worth bearing in mind that Northern Ireland, which makes up nearly 3% of the UK population, is almost never included in these polls. It wouldn't totally surprise me if opposition to EU membership was stronger there, although it's hard to be sure, because there's probably a big split in opinion between the two communities.
What we do know, however, is that support for the EU is much stronger in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. In the Scottish subsample of today's poll, continued membership is backed by a whopping 59% to 28% margin. That's very similar to the findings of a separate full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov in today's Sunday Post, which uses a completely different question -
If there is a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, how will you vote? (Scotland-only poll) :
I will vote to remain a member of the European Union : 54%
I will vote to leave the European Union : 25%
So unless something dramatic happens, it looks extremely likely that there will be a Yes vote in Scotland, which means that one-half of the "2017 scenario" (or perhaps even the "2016 scenario") that could lead to quick Scottish independence is now firmly in place. We'll just have to wait and see whether public opinion in England and Wales drifts more towards No, thus bringing the other half of the equation into play.
The Sunday Post poll also contains figures on independence, but I don't know what they are yet, because the datasets aren't up, and the Post's political editor is doing the tedious #buyapaper routine on Twitter. I'm quite happy to buy a paper, but I'd be no further forward, because it wouldn't be THAT paper. However, this is what we have been told so far -
* No still have the lead.
* Yes are in the lead among every age group apart from over-60s.
* The SNP wouldn't suffer much loss of support if they pledged a second referendum in their 2016 manifesto.
That last point is hugely significant, because it drives a coach-and-horses through one of the causes for optimism that the unionist parties have been clinging to. They've probably realised there will have to be some kind of conditional pledge for a referendum in the SNP manifesto (in the event of Brexit, for example), and they will have been hoping that might prove to be a massive turning-point. It seems not.
Finally, we've been told that John Curtice reckons that Yes will have to be polling at 60% before the SNP can be sure of victory. That sounds to me like a number plucked out of thin air - there's no such thing as certainty. Much bigger leads than 60-40 have crumbled over the course of a referendum campaign, and needless to say much smaller leads have remained intact. What really matters is the solidity of the support for either side, and that's something that supplementary questions and focus groups would be able to shed some light on.
* * *
I've just stumbled across two City AM headlines from a few months ago that seem rather amusing in retrospect -
'Why the Salmond surge won’t happen – and the Scots will back Labour in 2015'
'Labour's comeback kid: Jim Murphy slashes SNP poll lead'