FOR months now they’ve been relying upon some selective reading of opinion polls in order to assert that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum. The problem with this tactic is that sometimes opinion polls are very difficult to spin away.

And so it has come to pass. For the second week in a row the Scottish Conservatives have been blindsided by an opinion poll. The first was the poll last week which showed that a large majority of Conservative party members across the UK would prefer to lose Scotland than to lose Brexit. The second was a poll for the Sunday Times last weekend which showed that if the favourite for the Conservative leadership gets into power, then a clear majority of voters in Scotland would support independence.

According to the poll, carried out by Panelbase, 53% would support independence should Boris Johnson become prime minister. Even if the famously self-destructing Johnson manages to blow up his own campaign and fails, 49% of voters in Scotland still support independence.

This is the highest level of support for independence in a Panelbase poll for three years. 49% is well within the margin of error for opinion polls, meaning that it’s too close to call.

For supporters of independence this is a fantastically strong starting point before an official campaign is under way. The reality is that most people aren’t interested in politics. They’re not going to engage with arguments for or against independence until there’s a date for a vote on the matter. We’re going to start that campaign with half of the country already backing independence. We’re going to go into that campaign with a discredited British government which will not be able to repeat the Better Together campaign of 2014.

No-one in Scotland is going to believe a Vow Mk II. We can’t be told that a vote for independence means leaving the EU. No future anti-independence campaign can seriously claim that Scotland is a valued and respected partner in a family of UK nations.

No wonder the Scottish Conservatives are desperately trying to prevent a vote from taking place when the closest thing possible to a new Vow is Jeremy Hunt in Peterhead harbour clutching a can of Irn-Bru and a fish supper. He was just missing the deep-fried Mars Bar for the Scottish culinary stereotype hat-trick.

Instead of strengthening devolution and trying to persuade Scotland that there’s a positive case for the Union, the Conservatives have adopted a twin strategy of denying Scotland a right to decide on its own future within the UK, and seeking to undermine the devolution settlement even further. It’s a shockingly short-sighted strategy, but it’s all that they have left.

According to the BBC over the weekend, Ross Thomson claims that Boris Johnson is planning to create a unit within Downing Street dedicated to defending the Union. We must assume that this will be a secure unit. The plan is that hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent in Scotland directly by UK Government departments, despite the fact that they cover devolved areas. This is being described as “extra” money for Scotland by the Conservatives, but what’s really happening is that money which the UK once transferred to the EU which the EU then granted to the Scottish Government for infrastructure and other projects will now be controlled directly the by UK Government instead, so that they can plaster Union flegs on things. It’s a loss of control for Holyrood which is being portrayed as an extra benefit for Scotland. And you can be pretty certain that once this scheme is established, there will be calls from Conservative backbenchers to make cuts in the funding received by Holyrood in the name of so-called fairness.

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt tweeted on Sunday that he supports a third runway at Heathrow airport because that’s what people in Scotland want.

Jeremy has his finger on the pulse. Scotland is full of folk who are considering voting for independence, but who will change their minds if only the British Government spends billions on a new runway at an airport in London. “Scotland has always been ignored by British governments, but now that they’re going to spend a shedload of dosh on improving London infrastructure people in Scotland feel really appreciated,” said no-one ever.

Like Boris Johnson, Jeremy also wants to undermine the devolution settlement by allowing UK Government departments to spend directly in Scotland on devolved matters. It is because all the topmost levels of the Conservatives are in agreement that Scotland Secretary David Mundell, who hasn’t resigned yet, announced the opening of two new UK Government hubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It’s a cheap trick, a naked and obvious assault on the devolution settlement, which the Conservatives are desperately hoping will deceive Scotland into believing that this country is valued by the British government. It is clear that the real intent behind the move is to undermine and hollow out the competencies of Holyrood.

If the Scottish Conservatives had any realistic prospect of forming the next Scottish Government, they’d be protesting against this power grab. Their silence speaks volumes. But even the Conservative party has given up hope of Ruth Saviour of the Union Davidson ever becoming First Minister.

They can see the writing is on the wall and they know that they’re facing a potential extinction level event in Scotland at the next UK General Election. The Panelbase poll published over the weekend also pointed to a pro-independence majority of SNP and Greens in Holyrood at the next Scottish elections.

What we are seeing now is the last desperate throw of the dice by the Conservative party. They know that as soon as there’s a vote on Scottish independence, they will lose, so they’re hoping to prevent one from coming about. The problem that they have is that they can’t prevent it forever, and the greater the obstacles that they put in the way, the more that they risk antagonising those soft No and undecided voters who they rely upon in order to ensure an anti-independence majority.

If the Tories can’t get to play with the toy of Holyrood, they’ll break it so that no-one else can. Remember that promise that the Tories, along with the partners in the Better Together campaign, made to Scotland in 2014, that no changes would be made to the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament?

The Conservatives are hoping you haven’t. The Conservatives are the party of short-term expediency. It will be their undoing and the undoing of the UK. Many people in Scotland will not mourn for either.