OCTOBER’S Ipsos MORI poll famously showed an all-time high Yes vote of 58%, and that has now been followed up with Yes at 56% – the second-highest ever in an Ipsos MORI poll, and the joint second-highest in any poll from any firm.

That’s important, because there was always a chance that a result outside the normal range might have turned out to be a “rogue poll”.

A mere 2% drop suggests that the October figure, even if it was exaggerated slightly by sampling issues, couldn’t have been too far off the mark.

The other possibility is there has been a genuine small slippage in support for independence since the peak in October, but it would be very premature to jump to that conclusion.

Of the three firms that have produced polls most recently, two (Ipsos MORI and YouGov) have shown a 2% drop in the Yes vote, but the other (Panelbase) showed Yes climbing to a new high watermark. Such mixed results mean the jury is still out as far as the trend is concerned, and we’ll have to await further information from more polls. It’s entirely possible that nothing much has changed in recent weeks.

And there’s another point to consider. Two factors make Ipsos MORI polls different from most others – they’re conducted by telephone, rather than via an online polling panel, and they don’t appear to be weighted by recalled vote from the 2014 independence referendum. In the October poll, there appeared to be far too many people who recalled voting Yes, which in some eyes may have detracted from the credibility of the result. But in the new poll, respondents’ recollections are much more in line with what actually happened in 2014.

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On that basis, it’s arguable that the 56% Yes vote we have now is actually more impressive than the 58% in October.

Despite a modest recovery for the Tories and Labour, the SNP remain on course for a healthy overall majority at the Holyrood election in May, and some of the results from Ipsos MORI’s supplementary questions help to explain why.

A clear majority of respondents said they trust the SNP to deal effectively with all of the six different policy matters that were asked about, whereas an overwhelming majority said they didn’t trust the Tories on all of the same six areas. It can’t be overstated how unusual this is in international terms – normally two parties vying for power will be perceived as having different strengths and weaknesses. For example, it’s traditionally the case that UK polls show that the Tories are trusted more than Labour on defence, but that the reverse is true on health.

But when you have a governing party in Scotland that is widely trusted on everything, and a leading opposition party that is trusted on nothing, there isn’t really much of a contest.

Unionists will comfort themselves by saying that the pandemic has played to the strengths of the SNP, and of Nicola Sturgeon in particular, and that the political state of play may therefore change when society starts to return to normality.

The snag is that the current focus on the pandemic will probably be replaced by a focus on the economic carnage of a Hard Brexit, so we shouldn’t exclude the possibility that things could get even worse for the No side. A total of 54% of respondents told Ipsos MORI they were pessimistic about Brexit, and only 23% said they were optimistic.

With the rollout of the vaccine coinciding with the end of the Brexit transition period, the Scottish Tories could be left with the distinct feeling of swapping the frying-pan for the fire.