WHEN an opinion poll produces an unusual or unprecedented result, the golden rule is: don’t regard the shift in opinion as real until it’s been corroborated by at least one more poll. Having two Panelbase polls in close proximity that put Yes on 54% is therefore a lot more valuable and significant than having only one. It’s now considerably less likely, although admittedly not impossible, that the earlier poll only showed such a high number due to the margin of error, or indeed due to being an outright rogue poll.

And if independence support really is in the mid-50s, that means it’s significantly higher than even in January, when Yes was pushed into the lead as a result of the sudden certainty that Brexit was really happening, and also the SNP honeymoon effect after the general election. So there must be an additional factor at play to produce the further surge, and it’s not hard to guess what that’s likely to be.

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Poll after poll has revealed Scottish voters’ disgust with the Tory government’s bungled handling of the pandemic, and their considerable confidence in Nicola Sturgeon’s very different response. In the new poll, Ms Sturgeon has a net positive “Covid rating” of +60, and Boris Johnson has a net negative rating of -39. Such an enormous disparity is more than sufficient to single-handedly explain a dramatic change in the political weather, and perhaps for the first time indy supporters on social media can almost be forgiven for their age-old objection that “I’m sure the Yes vote is a lot higher than that!”

Given that comment has been made with increasing frequency and seriousness in recent weeks, it might be worth explaining why a Yes vote of “only” 54% can seem at odds with people’s anecdotal experience from family, friends, and acquaintances.

Opposition to independence is particularly concentrated among certain groups – most obviously Conservative voters, and to a lesser extent Brexit supporters and people who were born in England.

So if you feel like you hardly ever come across anyone from the 46% who the polls tell us want to remain in the UK, ask yourself whether your social circle contains, for example, a representative number of Tory voters – they should make up around 20% of your own personal “sample”. If they don’t, your sample doesn’t look enough like Scotland in its full complexity, and your own experience doesn’t really call into question the results of opinion polls.

But there’s certainly no cause for disappointment if 54% is the true figure – Yes has never been higher in any previous Panelbase poll. The only missing piece of the jigsaw is information from a wider range of polling firms. If a couple of other firms were to support Panelbase’s finding of a record-breaking Yes vote, it would be reasonable to conclude that support for independence is currently at an all-time high.

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I see no reason why that wouldn’t happen if polls were run right now, because surveys conducted by YouGov and Survation in January showed much the same results on independence as a Panelbase poll conducted at around the same time. There don’t appear to be any obvious “house effects” at play here.

The other astonishing finding from the new poll is that the SNP have reached their highest level of support at Holyrood in any poll conducted by any firm since the 2016 election.

We know from what happened in 2016 that an inflated lead of this sort is unlikely to remain totally unscathed over the course of a bruising election campaign. But a 35-point lead over the Tories on the constituency ballot is quite a cushion to have.

Barring some kind of black swan event (another one), the re-election of the SNP government looks to be a racing certainty.