One of the frustrating things about recent months has been the SNP leadership increasingly taking the view that the 'process' aspect of how Scottish independence will come about is none of the business of the ordinary people of this country, and that we should occupy our minds with other matters instead. That attitude is of course completely unrealistic and has left Kremlinology as our only recourse if we want to know what is happening, as most of us do. There have been alarming indications from the likes of Andrew Wilson, who has posed as the defender of Nicola Sturgeon against largely fictional "attacks" on her for allegedly deciding to delay the calling of an independence referendum. That has the feel of a mind game, but what is the nature of the game? Is Mr Wilson an outrider for the leadership, trying to soften us up for an impending decision to let the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum expire? Or is the mind game directed at the leadership, trying to coax Nicola Sturgeon into believing that a decision to delay is somehow inevitable and she should simply confirm it?
Ms Sturgeon's comments in the US would tend towards the latter theory, because they're not really consistent with plans for an indefinite delay. She was asked whether Scotland would be applying for EU membership as an independent country within three to five years, and she said she thought it would. As we all know, there would inevitably be a gap of at least two years or so between Scotland voting for independence and actually getting it, so that leaves only three possibilities: a) the mandate for a pre-2021 referendum will be honoured, b) the referendum will be delayed until beyond the 2021 election but with an intention to hold it on an extremely tight timetable immediately after that election, or c) a forthcoming election will be used to double as an independence referendum.
Any of those options would be preferable to the highly inappropriate "ca' canny" mood music of recent weeks (haven't you noticed we're facing a national crisis right now, guys?), so let's hope Ms Sturgeon's words foreshadow some positive action in the weeks to come. I'm coming round to the idea that we may need a snap Westminster general election to save the SNP from its own caution, though - the leadership may need seat gains and the feeling of being on the front foot before they're quite ready to take a risk. And calling a referendum would always be a risk - starting with Yes at 60% or whatever would be an entirely illusory comfort blanket. In a referendum campaign you can lose or gain a third of your votes in the blink of an eye.
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To confirm that the SNP would have a reasonable chance of seat gains in an early general election, YouGov have produced new figures from their seats forecast model, which predicted the last election more accurately than conventional polling. The central forecast for the SNP is 39 seats (up 4 on the current position), with the likelihood being that they would fall somewhere between 35 and 43. There are five Labour seats listed as having a 50% or greater chance of falling to the SNP - Rutherglen & Hamilton West, Glasgow North-East (thoroughly deserved, Mr Sweeney), Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, Midlothian, and Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill.
I can't remember this happening during the 2017 election, but a projection for the Scottish popular vote has also been provided -
SNP 40% (+3)
Conservatives 28% (-1)
Labour 20% (-7)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+2)
That appears to represent a substantial adjustment on the raw polling numbers, which put the SNP on a massive 48% of the vote. Even on the adjusted figures, though, there is a clear swing to the SNP from the Tories as well as from Labour, which makes it a tad surprising that no Tory seats are forecast to fall to the SNP. On a uniform swing, Stirling ought to switch hands extremely easily.