THE last time a Savanta ComRes poll showed the pro-independence vote on 53% was last October.

It represented a non-significant 1% drop on the previous poll from the same firm in August, and coincided with an Ipsos MORI telephone poll that showed Yes at an all-time high.

So if we’d known then that another Savanta ComRes poll in February would again put Yes at 53%, we’d probably have taken that as proof that nothing much was really going to change, and that the indy vote would hold steady at an unprecedentedly high level.

The reason most people are not now interpreting it that way is that there have been two Savanta ComRes polls in the intervening period putting Yes at 58% and 57% respectively. So all of a sudden 53% appears disappointing, and seems to be evidence of substantial slippage.

But in fact that’s only one of two ways of looking at it. It could just as easily be that the firm’s previous two polls were aberrations, and that normal service has now been resumed.

If that’s right, there’s no reason to assume that other firms will show a similar drop – and it’s to be very much hoped they won’t, because a 4% decline would be enough to push No back into the lead with YouGov, Survation and Panelbase.

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The snag is, of course, that it’s not hard to think of reasons why there might well have been a genuine swing against Yes in recent days and weeks. There’s been the ongoing fallout from the Sturgeon vs Salmond feud, there’s been the SNP leadership’s self-inflicted distraction of the Joanna Cherry sacking, and there’s been a Unionist media hell-bent on convincing us that the roll-out of the vaccine somehow wipes away the UK Government’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic.

And yet here’s the odd thing: in spite of the difficult circumstances, the Savanta ComRes poll suggests there has essentially been no change in the SNP’s support in voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament.

On the constituency ballot, the SNP has even nudged up by one percentage point and now stand at a commanding 54%.

If the fall in the Yes vote had been caused by a reaction against the SNP, it would be reasonable to expect that the SNP itself would take a corresponding hit – indeed it might even be expected that the SNP would suffer more severely.

The fact that hasn’t happened could suggest that all is not quite as it seems on the main indy question. But, as ever, we’ll just have to wait for more polls to find out for sure.

Even if it turns out that both the SNP and the Yes movement have dodged a bullet for the time being, there are still warning signs in this poll.

A supplementary question reveals that 45% of respondents now believe that the SNP is “divided” – six percentage points higher than before.

It seems inconceivable that change hasn’t at least been partly caused by the sacking of Joanna Cherry. Party strategists must be privately wondering if they should have heeded the old adage that divided parties can sometimes struggle to win elections.

In the unlikely event that the voting intentions from the poll are exactly replicated on election day, pro-independence parties would take 64% of seats at Holyrood – a level of dominance that has never been seen before.

Even in the 2011 Parliament, the SNP, Greens and Margo MacDonald in combination held only 56% of the seats.

The arrival of Scotland’s first truly “independence-minded” Parliament could further foster a sense of inevitability about its progression towards sovereign statehood.