At last we know how and when the story of this parliament ends, and it's interesting to cast our minds back a hundred plot twists and recall what the conventional wisdom was immediately after the 2017 general election. We were told that this parliament would never allow a Hard Brexit on its watch, that it wouldn't run to its full term, and that Theresa May wouldn't still be Conservative party leader at the end of it. All of those things proved to be true, but there were plenty of times when it looked like they might not. And the assumption of many people that "not allowing a Hard Brexit" would amount to the same thing as ensuring a soft Brexit proved to be wide of the mark. If the coming election turns out in the way opinion polls currently suggest, a number of Remainer MPs in the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Change UK may bitterly regret spurning the chance to work with Labour and defeat the Hard Brexiteers when the parliamentary arithmetic was still in their favour.
That said, I don't think we can say that we're doomed to a Tory overall majority just yet. I'm not in any way predicting that it won't happen, but we won't really know until the progress of the official campaign starts to concentrate minds among pro-EU voters. In theory the votes are there to defeat Johnson, but at the moment they're just not coalescing in the most effective way. Actually that's an understatement - they're coalescing in just about the least effective way imaginable. Normally I would scoff at the grandiose claims made by tactical voting websites, but given how passionate some voters are about stopping Brexit, it could be a very different story this time. Remember also that there looks likely to be a limited electoral pact between Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, which in itself should be enough to limit the number of seats that Johnson wins. (And isn't it intriguing that Adam Price's enthusiastic embrace of the word "independence" hasn't deterred the Lib Dems from working with Plaid? The pact won't be replicated in Scotland, but the double standard of treating the SNP like the devil incarnate may undermine the Lib Dems' message somewhat.)
One thing we have learned today, if there was ever any real doubt, is that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act isn't worth the paper it's written on. If any future majority government wants to hold an early snap election, all it'll have to do is pass a one-page Bill setting a date, and the two-thirds majority supposedly required by the FTPA simply won't apply. Theoretically a minority government might have greater difficulties, but it's hard to imagine too many circumstances in which the opposition would keep such a government in office in the way that Labour MPs have attempted in recent weeks. Spare a thought tonight for the editor of Stormfront Lite, who has staked his reputation over the last nine years on endlessly repeating that the FTPA makes early elections nigh-on impossible. Even after he was proved wrong about that in 2017, he just carried on saying it as if nothing had changed. He was jubilant last month when an early election was blocked, and insisted that this proved his theory was correct, but that turned out to be merely a temporary reprieve. Now all we need is for one of the "oldies" to prove him wrong by winning the Democratic presidential nomination next year, and the people of East Dunbartonshire may completely lose faith in his credentials as an impartial Liberal Democrat election expert.
Spare a thought also for Change UK and the likes of John Woodcock, for whom today's events were a nightmare come true. At the start of this year the theory was that the Change UK breakaway would tip the balance against an early election, because there was such an incentive for those MPs not to face the verdict of the electorate any time soon, but in the end they proved to be nothing more than a noisy irrelevance when the decision was made. Chris Leslie, who probably once fancied himself as a future Prime Minister or Chancellor, may have thrown his career away.
We're entitled to feel optimistic about the SNP's prospects for the coming contest, but that should be tempered with caution, especially after the bruising experience of 2017. Nicola Sturgeon has clearly learned from her mistake of downplaying independence in that campaign, but even if the SNP get their pitch just right, there are any number of things that can go wrong due to factors outwith their control. Westminster elections will always be an "away fixture" for them. Labour might get back in the game in Scotland simply by being mentioned far more often than the SNP. Jo Swinson will be the darling of the liberal media, and any Lib Dem bandwagon effect could damage the SNP, just as the Cleggasm did in 2010. And look out for potential stitch-ups in the TV leaders' debates - we know that Johnson desperately wants them to be head-to-heads with Corbyn, and the broadcasters will be all too happy to oblige if they think they can get away with it. The good news is that it'll be hard to justify excluding Ms Swinson given the Lib Dems' position in the polls, and if she's included it'll be very hard to exclude Ms Sturgeon.