Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation)
Yes 50% (-1)
No 50% (+1)
That's potentially just margin of error noise, and suggests that public opinion has remained fairly static since the Survation poll of early December. There's no particular reason, therefore, to assume that a poll produced right now by one of the more Yes-friendly firms (Ipsos-Mori, Panelbase, Savanta ComRes or perhaps JL Partners) would no longer show a Yes lead.
The reality is that the sequence of Yes-majority polls was always going to be broken at some point - unless there was a further swing to Yes. Why? Because previous polls by several firms had put Yes on either 51% or 52%, which made it statistically inevitable, due to the margin of error, that an individual poll would eventually produce a figure of 49% or 50% even if public opinion remained static. So in a sense we're just getting the inevitable out of the way today, and we can now look forward to future polls which still have a very decent chance of showing a Yes lead.
And in one sense the unbroken run for Yes actually continues - because this is the twenty-fourth consecutive poll to show Yes on 50% or higher, ie. either ahead or level. That sequence stretches all the way back to a Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings last May which also showed a 50/50 split.
UPDATE: I was chatting to my mum a few minutes ago, and I happened to mention the poll to her. She said: "Well, in a way it's not that surprising, because even Alex Salmond said Scotland is not ready for..." And I practically screamed: "WHAT?! HE NEVER SAID THAT!" She looked at me incredulously as if she knew for a fact that Alex Salmond had said Scotland wasn't ready for independence. It was as if I was trying to convince her the sky is green. "HE DIDN'T SAY THAT!" I repeated. "Who did say it, then?" she asked me. "NOBODY! IT WAS A LIE! THEY JUST MADE IT UP!" She couldn't believe it.
If even my independence-supporting mum truly believed that Alex Salmond had said something he didn't, then this is a particularly dark episode for what passes for 'journalism' in this country. This goes way, way beyond the usual sailing close to the wind - a downright lie has been told in the service of a sinister political agenda, and clearly members of the public have been successfully duped. I trust there will be complaints lodged with the newspaper regulator IPSO about the Express front page, and in spite of IPSO's reputation, I see no reason why those complaints won't be upheld. Given the seriousness and sheer cynicism of the intentional lie, the Express may even be forced to make a front page correction.
I gather also that one or two BBC journalists have given viewers the impression that Mr Salmond made the fictitious statement - if so, there may also be a case for complaints to the BBC, and then to Ofcom after the standard fobbing-off arrives in a thousand inboxes.
UPDATE II: I see that the Sunday Mail's report on the poll falsely claims that the Yes vote has fallen to 50% from 58% in October. I suppose they can technically claim that isn't a direct lie, because there were polls from Ipsos-Mori and ComRes putting Yes at 58%. However, it's deliberately misleading, because trends can only be measured by looking at polls from the same firm, and the highest Yes vote Survation have reported is 54%. So in fact there's only been a four-point drop from the peak.