A new full-scale Scottish YouGov poll is out today, and the most significant finding is that there is narrow majority support (albeit within the margin of error) for Scotland seeking to remain in the European Union after the UK leaves...
Would you support or oppose Scotland seeking to negotiate with the European Union to remain part of the EU after the rest of Britain leaves?
The subsequent question reveals that, by a massive 62%-22% margin, people understand that independence will be required to remain in the EU after Brexit.
There's particularly vexing news for Kezia Dugdale here. As you'd expect, SNP voters are firmly in favour of retaining Scotland's EU membership, and Tory voters overwhelmingly follow the 'Brexit Means Brexit for everyone' doctrine. But Labour voters are essentially split down the middle on this point. It appears that Dugdale may have miscalculated in her belief that the rump Labour support (which is all she appears to care about holding onto) shares the hardline unionist DNA of the Tory support. Incredible though it may seem, therefore, there are clear grounds for optimism that even more Labour voters could be won over to the SNP if Dugdale maintains her inflexible stance on leaving the EU.
The poll was commissioned by a rabidly anti-independence client (The Times), who are naturally keen to draw attention to the portions of the poll they find more palatable. In particular, they seem to be beside themselves with excitement to discover that, for the first time since 2014, a YouGov poll has found that headline support for independence is fractionally lower than it was in the indyref. (The operative word here is 'fractionally' - the Yes vote in the referendum was 44.7%, and YouGov currently has it at 44%.) But the reality is that the general pattern of recent times has been a Yes vote that hovers only a little higher than the 2014 result, with a figure of 47% being particularly typical. If that's roughly where we are, you'd fully expect the odd individual poll to put Yes slightly below 45%, simply due to sampling variation (ie. margin of error). It's theoretically possible that this poll is the first to detect a genuine dip in support, but there's absolutely no reason to jump to that conclusion - unless of course you're indulging in wishful thinking.
By the same token, The Times are ascribing significance that simply cannot be statistically justified to minor changes on the supplementary questions. For example, opposition to a second independence referendum being held before the UK leaves the EU (ie. within a very tight two-year timescale) has increased since the poll in August from 50%-37% to 54%-35%. But that change can be easily explained by the margin of error - if, say, the true 'oppose' figure has remained steady at around 52%, the margin of error means that the reported figure in individual polls would be expected to be anywhere between 49% and 55%. So The Times' liberal use of words like 'slump' is, I'm afraid, a tad over-excitable.
One thing to watch out for today : YouGov have, frankly, become notorious over the years for their lack of objectivity on the topic of Scottish independence. After their last poll in August, they posted a ludicrous article which brazenly misrepresented their own results. They stated baldly that a majority of Scots were opposed to a second referendum, but, in fact, respondents hadn't even been asked such a broad question - they'd only been asked whether they wanted a referendum before Britain leaves the EU, which could be very soon indeed. YouGov also stated that, if and when a referendum takes place, a majority would vote No again. There was absolutely nothing in their results that would even begin to justify such a wild claim. The headline question on independence had merely asked, in line with normal practice, how people would vote on independence if a referendum was held tomorrow. Both of those facts also apply to today's poll, so just keep an eye out in case YouGov attempt the same misrepresentation on this occasion. At time of writing, they haven't so far.
One small piece of credit I can give YouGov, however, is that they've finally put their house in order and started interviewing the correct electorate - ie. over-16s, rather than just over-18s. So we no longer have to worry about Yes and SNP support being underestimated for that specific reason. It's very hard to understand why it's taken such a ridiculously long time for basic good practice to be followed - but better late than never.
It shouldn't be overlooked that today's poll makes fairly grim reading for Theresa May personally. Her net personal rating has collapsed from +13 in August to -5 now. Margin of error 'noise' certainly can't explain such a big change. The Prime Minister still has a long way to go before she reaches Thatcher-style depths of unpopularity, but on her current trajectory (and bearing in mind that her honeymoon period has only really just ended), it's perfectly possible she could eventually arrive at that destination. If she does, the consequences for opponents of independence could be catastrophic.
The final question of the poll is a bit of an oddity. Unionists have gleefully leaped on it as proof that 'only' 13% of the population have been involved in the SNP's recent consultation process (which would actually be a pretty impressive figure). But the wording of YouGov's question leaves a lot to be desired. The survey is cited as the "National Conversation", whereas to the best of my knowledge it's actually been generally referred to as the "National Survey". Respondents are also asked whether they have been "approached to take part" in the survey, which on the face of it would exclude anyone who took part without being "approached". Whether the wording of the question is just clumsy, or whether it's deliberately intended to muddy the waters, is hard to say.
A general point that needs to be made about all polling at the moment : regardless of whether it's good or bad, we simply can't be sure it's reliable. Fergus Ewing was asked about the headline independence results today, and he pointed out that polls in recent elections and referendums had mostly been wrong. In years gone by, a politician trying to rubbish the polls would have been regarded as a bit desperate, but as things stand it's hard to deny he's got an excellent point. It's particularly worth taking a look at the huge leads the Remain campaign had in telephone polls for such a long time. No-one can say with any great confidence what the true support for independence is right now - let alone what it will be in a few months' time, or in a couple of years. That's a statement of fact. The era during which it was rational for political leaders to make strategic decisions on the basis of a couple of percentage points here or there in opinion polls is well and truly over. At best, the polls of today are a ball-park guide - and that park seems to be getting ever bigger.