Not for the first time in his career, Nigel Farage has rapidly gone from one extreme to another. Until a day or two ago, it looked like he was hellbent on doing as much damage as possible to Boris Johnson's election chances by putting up candidates in all or most constituencies, whereas now the rumour is suddenly that he might try to protect the bigger prize of Brexit by only launching a challenge in a very small number of Labour-held seats. It's only a rumour, but if by any chance it's true, it ought to be bad news for us because it presumably means Farage won't be helpfully splitting the Tory/pro-Brexit vote in any of the Tory-SNP battleground seats in Scotland.
Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Lord Hayward's counter-intuitive suggestion that the Tories could actually be harmed if the Brexit Party sit out almost all of the seats. His theory is that Boris Johnson has already won back most of the ex-Tories who defected to the Brexit Party earlier this year, and that the bulk of the Brexit Party's remaining support is therefore made up of ex-Labour voters who would never consider voting Tory. In other words, if there isn't a Brext Party candidate to vote for on 12th December, those voters will either abstain or revert to Labour - and if they do the latter, the Tories' lead over Labour is bound to decrease.
A quick look at recent polling datasets reveals that Hayward's theory is based on a false premise - the proportion of Brexit Party support that is ex-Labour may have risen since Johnson became Prime Minister, but it's still only a minority. The Tories still stand to gain more than Labour from any absence of Brexit Party candidates.
But all of this made me think about the composition of Brexit Party support in Scotland. Will those voters transfer more or less as a bloc to the Scottish Tories if Farage doesn't put up candidates? There are two barriers to answering that question - a) there have only been two full-scale Scottish polls since Johnson entered Downing Street, and b) the sample of Brexit Party voters in each poll is far too small to give us reliable information. But there is one very striking statistic from the most recent Panelbase poll - almost as many Brexit Party supporters voted SNP in the 2016 Holyrood election as voted Tory. By the time of the 2017 Westminster general election, they were breaking much more for the Tories, probably because the EU referendum had happened in the interim and they didn't want to vote for a party committed to overturning the Leave vote. Even in 2017, though, a significant minority of Brexit Party supporters (just under one-quarter, in fact) voted SNP. And only a little over half of them voted Tory.
So it could be a mistake to assume that Brexit Party voters in Scotland are monolithically pro-Tory, or anti-SNP, or even anti-independence. Many of them could be genuinely up for grabs if their first choice party isn't available. Although a Farage-free election certainly wouldn't be good news for us, it might not be unalloyed bad news either.