The National:

FOR nearly a year the SNP and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, have enjoyed seemingly gravity-defying polling as Scottish independence first became the preference of most Scots, and then overtook the level of support Unionism reached in 2014.

So, I think the media can be forgiven for overreacting to today’s Survation poll showing Yes and No neck-and-neck. If you take the Sunday Mail’s front page at face value, the independence movement and the SNP are in crisis, with independence support "plunging". But that’s not even close to what the poll shows.

The National:

Compared to Survation’s January poll, support for independence is down two percentage points, and support for the Union is up one. Both of those changes are within the "margin of error" – in other words, they are as likely to be random statistical noise as they are to reflect real changes in public opinion. Survation tend to find lower Yes support than other pollsters, and that hasn’t changed.

That said, it would be dangerous for the SNP and pro-independence activists to ignore the polls completely. A rolling, six poll average of independence support shows that the Yes lead has slipped since the beginning of the year, from nine points to four. Ipsos MORI found that satisfaction with the First Minister has also slipped, from 72% of Scots saying they were satisfied with how she was doing her job in October 2020 to 64% this month.

READ MORE: Half of Scots back independence, according to new Yes poll

Internal SNP splits have also begun to cut through to the public. Savanta ComRes found that 45% of Scots now see the SNP as divided, up from 37% last December, and Ipsos MORI found that a fifth of 2019 SNP voters and the same proportion of Yes voters say they are less favourable towards the party because of the Salmond inquiry.

But none of this is catastrophic. The proportion of Scots who intend to vote SNP in May remains above 50% in all recent polling, and the party holds a commanding lead over its Unionist rivals on trust to deal with every major issue facing Scotland – from Covid-19 to the economy, healthcare, and education. The First Minister’s ratings may have slipped, but she remains extraordinarily, unprecedentedly popular.

More importantly, while the SNP’s divisions are beginning to cut through, very few voters seem to care that much. In the Ipsos MORI poll, less than 1% said the Salmond inquiry was a very important issue for how they’ll vote in May, compared to independence on 38%.

All of which points to a clear set of conclusions. While voters dislike divided parties – navel-gazing is not a good look – it takes time for division to have much impact and refocusing on the job at hand should be enough to shake that perception, especially given the SNP’s strength across the devolved policy areas.

READ MORE: Jim Sillars writes directly to Nicola Sturgeon over alleged code breach

The week ahead may be a difficult one. But with growth in support for independence tied to perceptions of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government’s competence, moving past the Salmond inquiry and focusing on the narratives that will win a pro-independence majority in May will also help to arrest sliding Yes support.

Unlike the Sunday Mail’s doom-mongering headline suggests, the polls do not suggest catastrophe on the horizon. But they should be a wake-up call to the SNP and independence activists across the country – play out divisions and the voters will punish you, but if you focus on the issues that matter to them, they will reward you with a pro-independence Parliament and the best shot at independence Scotland has ever had.