UNTIL a few years ago it would have been utterly unthinkable that a UK Government, of any political complexion, might one day abolish the Scottish Parliament. The “respect agenda” of the Conservative-led administration under David Cameron was intended to reassure voters that devolution was safe in Tory hands and that the only question would ever be whether more powers might be granted to Holyrood – not whether existing powers might be taken away.

Those days are well and truly over. The Internal Market Bill, currently making its way through the UK Parliament will curtail the Scottish Parliament’s existing powers. The Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie has boasted that this is “just the start” of the UK Government muscling in on devolved Scottish affairs. “Get used to it,” he added, just in case anyone had missed the point.

The ConservativeHome website regularly features calls for Downing Street to adopt an even more explicitly anti-devolution, or at the very least devo-sceptic, stance. The reason this is going on, of course, is that the Tories discovered during Ruth Davidson’s tenure as leader that it’s possible to fire up the core Unionist base and enjoy limited electoral success with an out-and-out British nationalist posture. But the core Unionist base probably only makes up around 25-30% of the electorate. Isn’t there a rather severe danger that Westminster is frightening and alienating the pro-devolution majority as it woos the militant minority?

The latest results from the new Scot Goes Pop/Panelbase poll suggest that’s exactly what’s happening. Respondents were asked to imagine that Scotland does not become an independent country over the next 10 years and that the Conservatives remain in power. In that scenario, did they think the Tories would grant substantial new powers to the Scottish Parliament, or take substantial powers away, or even abolish the Scottish Parliament altogether? The responses suggest that any success David Cameron may have had in reassuring voters that devolution is safe under the Tories has been completely undone. A grand total of 77% of respondents believe that Holyrood will either be abolished or significantly neutered over the coming decade. That includes 74% of Labour voters, 77% of LibDem voters, 67% of people who voted No in the 2014 referendum, and even 59% of people who are currently minded to vote No in a new indyref.

And make no mistake, this new climate of fear is not without cost to the Unionist side. The next question in the poll asked whether respondents would be more likely or less likely to support Scotland becoming an independent country if the UK Government actually went ahead and either abolished the Scottish Parliament or removed substantial powers from it. Sixty-nine per cent said that they would be more likely to back independence – including 50% of No voters from 2014 and 32% of those who would still vote No right now. In other words, voters expect the Tory Government to follow a course of action that will make a landslide majority for independence highly probable.

It would appear, then, that there is a golden opportunity for Yes campaigners to exploit the Tories’ colossal strategic blunder in bringing the future of devolution back into doubt. The success of Project Fear in 2014 suggests that it’s almost irrelevant whether the fears that a campaign tries to spread are well-founded or not – all that matters is whether they resonate and seem plausible. If a new billboard or internet ad were to suggest that the Scottish Parliament is under real threat if we don’t win independence soon, it looks like very few voters would react by saying “come off it”.