INDEPENDENCE supporters had been eagerly awaiting the first opinion poll of 2021, because they wanted to know if the cold reality of Scotland being dragged out of the EU single market and customs union against its will has supercharged support for independence.

But the answer that has been thrown up by the new Savanta ComRes poll is rather enigmatic. Yes is on 57%, which is the second best result ever in a poll conducted online. That’s obviously fantastic, but the snag is that it represents a 1% drop since the last poll from the same firm, which was carried out just before the end of the Brexit transition period and was the best ever online result for Yes.

So does this mean that the completion of Brexit has counterintuitively resulted in a very slight reversal in independence support? Not necessarily. Because the 58% recorded by Savanta ComRes last month was clearly outside the previous “normal range”, there must be a chance that it exaggerated the Yes vote due to normal sampling variation.

For example, it might be that the real Yes vote in December was 55%, and that Savanta ComRes overstated it by the full 3% margin of error. If so, the 57% in the new poll could yet prove to be a Brexit-fuelled increase in disguise. We should find out as the days and weeks go on, with more polls appearing from firms that didn’t report quite such a strong Yes vote at the end of 2020.

In any case, it’s arguable that the Yes vote is now consistently high enough that we no longer need to fret quite so much about the direction of travel. A majority of the seven polls published in the last three months have shown independence support at 55% or better, with the average standing at 54.9%. At that sort of level, flat-lining or even the occasional dip isn’t the end of the world.

READ MORE: New Yes poll shows support for independence is still sky-high

By contrast, the end of the world may very well have arrived for Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories. Judging from their excitement on social media in the days after the Brexit trade deal was agreed, they must have been expecting a bumper polling reward for the last-gasp averting of a No-Deal outcome, and for their contrived efforts to portray the SNP’s vote against the deal as a “vote for No-Deal”. Instead, the opposite has happened, with a statistically significant drop of 4% on the list vote, leaving them with their lowest vote share since the 2016 election.

There must now be a real chance of Labour returning by default to their former status as the largest opposition party at Holyrood. I suspect the SNP wouldn’t welcome that prospect – from a strategic point of view it would be far better to keep the Tories as the face of the anti-independence campaign. Accordingly, we may see a determined effort to frame the forthcoming election as a straight choice between the SNP and the Tories, with Labour being studiously ignored.