‘It has given us a good, old-fashioned kick up the backside,’ said one member of the ‘No’ camp yesterday.
He was being charitable. It could end up being an awful lot worse than that. The ‘it’ in question was the new ICM poll which, suddenly and unexpectedly, has put the Yes campaign right back in the hunt for Scottish independence.
At a stroke, all those complacent certainties about the No camp wiping the floor with the Nationalists have been discarded and, this morning at Holyrood, the talk is of little else.
‘It is game on,’ said one Nationalist with a smile. Just to emphasise how important this new poll for The Scotsman newspapers is, here are the figures: Yes 37 per cent (up from 32 per cent in September) No 44 per cent, down from 49 per cent in September.
But – and here is where it gets really interesting – if the 19 per cent who said ‘don’t know’ are excluded, the Yes vote goes up to 46 per cent with the No vote on 54 per cent.
And there is more: when the ‘don’t knows’ were pressed further and revealed how they were ‘most likely’ to vote, the Yes vote creeps up again, to 47 per cent, with No coming down to 53 per cent.
So here we have a proper, authoritative opinion poll, just eight months from the referendum, showing not just a marked improvement in the Yes vote but the gap between the two campaigns down to a slim six or seven per cent.
The fight now looks very different from the 60-40 or even 70-30 predictions that some people in the No camp have been making privately for the last few months.
It really is ‘game on’. This referendum battle is not over, not by a long way. Not only have the Nationalists closed the gap on the Unionists but they appear to have some momentum too.
Now, of course, this does come with the usual proviso that one poll does not a victory make. Indeed, we could be back to the more usual 65-35 split when the next few polls appear. But there is other evidence to suggest that the Nationalists are starting, just starting, to make progress.
While the attention of all of us media-political types has been focused on such weighty matters as the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence, on the utterances of Alex Salmond and the continuing tangles over Europe and Nato, at a grassroots level, the Nationalists have gone about things very differently. Convinced that the media is biased against them, they have ignored the public prints and gone out directly to the people.
Hardly a day goes by now when there isn’t a public meeting somewhere in Scotland organised by the Yes camp – there are actually likely to several, even dozens, on most days.
At each meeting, senior nationalists try the softly, softly approach, listening then putting their arguments across in as reasonable way as possible and it seems to be working – albeit slowly.
That is because the battle for Scotland’s future will not be won by the support of the committed voters of either side, it will be won by whoever manages to attract those 19 per cent of waverers in the middle.
It had long been assumed that the No camp would take most of these simply because the threat to the status quo would simply appear too big a step for most undecided voters.
And while this is only one poll, it is does reflect the first, faint tracings of a feeling that that assumption may not be quite as solid as it once appeared.