SNAP poll: should the UK Government release the results of its secret polling on independence? Answers on a postcard, please, and I’ll let you know how the vote goes next week. Unless of course it doesn’t go the way I hope and expect, in which case good luck prising that information out of me.

If anyone tries to force the issue, I will claim I’m using the secret polling data to develop future columns, and therefore have the right to sit on it, or indeed to throw the postcards into my fire pit and toast marshmallows over them. And since no public money is being spent on the exercise, the worst that can happen is that I earn a reputation for being a shady operator.

Michael Gove doesn’t care if we think he’s shady, because we’ve known that for years. Heck, he was shady enough to stab his pal Boris in the back just hours before the deadline for Tory leadership nominations in 2016, saying the man who is now Prime Minister could not “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.

A stopped clock is right twice a day, but at some point the hands of this one rusted and fell off. Gove managed to worm his way back into the heart of government, ultimately landing not one but two plum roles.

READ MORE: Michael Gove plans to scrap English votes for English laws in bid to save Union

Among his many responsibilities as part of Johnson’s team (which did indeed prove to be hopelessly ill-equipped for all of the challenges that lay ahead) is keeper of secrets for the Cabinet Office and its crisis-prone Union Unit. That task is beyond his capabilities too, as an information rights tribunal this week ruled that the government’s arguments in favour of keeping data hidden were “not wholly clear” and in any case not entirely relevant.

Gove and his team were relying on a Freedom of Information get-out clause that allows the government to scheme and plot behind closed doors, spending as much public money as they like, and keep their data gathered under wraps. Unfortunately for them, no such clause actually exists.

The National: Tommy Sheppard

Governments are allowed to keep some information to themselves when it relates to policy development, but as SNP MP Tommy Sheppard (above) pointed out, keeping Scotland in the Union is not a policy in development – it’s a position to which the party of government have always been committed. So committed, in fact, that it’s part of their name.

The tribunal has ordered disclosure of the information within 28 days. The question now is, which part is going to cause the government the most embarrassment? Will it be the findings of polls about the perceived strength of the Union, or the price tag for the exercise?

What hidden horrors might be unleashed after this chamber of secrets is opened? And what fresh tactics will be deployed in an attempt to squash support for independence?

It’s definitely not a sign of panic that Gove is suddenly proposing to scrap English Votes for English Laws, a principle introduced after the 2014 referendum that means a majority of English votes is needed to pass any legislation that (in theory, at least) affects only England. While on the surface it sounds reasonable, it’s so contentious that even the Scottish Tories – apologies, the Scottish branch of the Conservative and Unionist Party – are opposed to it.

Gove’s proposal to scrap the aptly-acronymed EVEL will go down well with anyone who understands the Barnett Formula, and therefore that decisions made about funding for areas like health and education in England have a direct impact on the Scottish Government’s budget. His motives may be less about addressing a democratic deficit and more about positive PR for his precious Union, but one wonders if he has factored in the negative headlines such a “Scottish Votes for English Laws” U-turn is likely to generate south of the Border.

We can expect the likes of Moe Lester and Hugh Jass to flood GB News with their frothing objections to this particular outrage, and more broadly to Conservative politicians switching from their initial strategy of ridicule, dismissal and Union flag-waving to one of love-bombing, sense-talking and – most disconcertingly – actually taking practical steps to make UK politics fairer. Whatever next, another Jock Prime Minister? Outrageous!

Sheppard’s original FOI request, seeking “all information relating to polling the general public on their perception of the strength of the Union since January 2018”, was made in 2019, which seems a lifetime ago now.

​READ MORE: Release secret independence polling or face fresh court action, SNP tell Tories

Perhaps the government hoped it could turn the tide by showing Scots – indeed, all UK voters – that we were better together. That’s worked out well, hasn’t it?

The problem with the Tory strategy from 2014 onwards – apart from the fact that it has spectacularly failed to dampen enthusiasm for independence – is that changing tack now risks enraging their core support, who may see every sensible change as a humiliating climbdown. Johnson and Gove may aspire to be “saviours of the Union”, but how popular will they make themselves if they achieve that aim not by bullying, or using “legal force”, but by pandering to the uppity Scots?