I know it's almost a waste of breath to complain when newspapers run misleading headlines about opinion polls, but it has to be said that the Herald's choice of "Poll blow for Yes movement" (in relation to the new Panelbase poll) is particularly eccentric when self-evidently the big story is the slump in the Labour vote. At worst, the poll can be described as a curate's egg for independence supporters, because the Holyrood numbers are so-so, and the Westminster numbers are highly encouraging. Yes, the SNP remain stuck on the 37% of the Westminster vote they received in 2017, but in a first-past-the-post election all that matters is the gap between the leading party and its opponents, and the SNP's lead over both the Tories and Labour has increased over the last two years. Seat projections based on polls need to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, but for what it's worth this is what would happen on a uniform swing...
Westminster seats projection from Panelbase poll:
SNP: 41 seats (+6)
Conservatives: 12 seats (-1)
Liberal Democrats: 5 seats (+1)
Labour: 1 seat (-6)
On what planet is that a blow for the Yes movement? If the SNP winning more than two-thirds of Scottish seats in the House of Commons is bad news, I can't wait to see what a good poll would look like. Indeed, this may confirm that Scottish politics has quietly crossed a Rubicon over recent weeks. If you remember, in the aftermath of the general election there was considerable concern that the momentum behind Labour could result in the SNP being replaced as the leading party in Scotland - and we knew that only Labour could ever achieve that, because there is still a natural ceiling on Tory support. It now looks like the fallout from the Independent Group breakaway may have finally killed any lingering chance of Labour overtaking the SNP in the foreseeable future, and that an SNP victory at the next Westminster election is close to being assured - with the only real question mark being over the scale of the triumph. There's always an outside chance of another twist in the tale, but at the moment it looks like 'success' for Labour would just mean holding what they have.
As far as Holyrood is concerned, SNP support is holding steady at a creditable 41% of the constituency vote. It's true that there's been a two point drop in the SNP's list vote, but given that there's no change in the party's popularity on other ballots, that could well be just a random polling fluctuation that doesn't really signify anything. The seats projection puts the combined pro-independence forces four seats short of an overall majority, but that's been the story of the majority of recent polls and isn't especially newsworthy in itself. In any case, the last three Holyrood elections have all produced results that bore little resemblance to pre-campaign polls. In 2007, the SNP started with a substantial lead that was whittled away to almost even-stevens by polling day, probably due to cold feet over putting a pro-indy party into power for the first time ever. In 2011, a huge Labour lead evaporated at astonishing speed and the SNP ended up with an overall majority - probably largely due to the fact that nobody could imagine Iain Gray as First Minister, while Alex Salmond seemed made for the role. And in 2016, wildly implausible pre-campaign numbers for the SNP (which led to irresponsible claims from some quarters that SNP supporters didn't need to vote for their own party on the list ballot) came back down to earth with seeming inexorability.
For my money, it's the leadership factor that could once again be the game-changer in the next Holyrood campaign. Richard Leonard may well look totally out of his depth against Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson in the TV leaders' debates, which could lead to a further substantial squeeze in Labour support. And it could be that all we'd need to maintain the pro-indy majority in the Scottish Parliament is for a reasonable percentage of Yes-supporting Labour voters to migrate to the SNP.