THERE was considerable excitement in the more staunch parts of Scottish social media over the weekend as users whose accounts are adorned with British flags and declarations of support for Brexit in order to show how much they hate nationalism reacted to the publication of a new poll from Panelbase in the Sunday Times.

The poll placed support for independence at 48% once  don’t-knows were excluded. As far as that minority segment of the Scottish population which doesn’t think that Neil Oliver is an insufferable attention seeker is concerned, this poll was conclusive proof that it’s all over for Scotland’s hopes of independence and for all perpetuity we should all resign ourselves to watching GBeebies and drinking in the words of wisdom from Murdo Fraser’s Twitter account.

Naturally Scotland’s anti-independence media gave great prominence to the result, taking great delight in telling us that support for independence is now at its lowest level in two years.

The real story is considerably more nuanced than the screaming headlines and exultant social media posts would have us believe.

READ MORE: 'No complacency': Poll putting Yes on 48 per cent must be ‘wake-up call for SNP'

Sadly for the Uber-Unionists, their confidence in the end of the independence movement is, at the very best, premature. All opinion polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3%, which means this poll actually found that support for independence lies somewhere between 45% and 51%. In other words it’s a statistical tie and the question of whether there is majority support in Scotland for independence is too close to call.

Over the past few years, different polling companies have produced somewhat different results to questions on support for Scottish independence. Some place support for independence slightly higher or lower than others. This is a function of the different methodologies used by different companies. Of late Panelbase appears to have been on the more “No-friendly” end of the spectrum. Another company might have produced a result which would have given apologists for British nationalism less to crow about.

In any event, the findings of individual polling companies must always be taken with a large pinch of salt – they don’t always get it right. In the case of Panelbase, this is the company which in a number of polls placed support for the new Alba Party at 6% during the Holyrood election campaign. This is a figure on which it could have won between six and eight seats and overtaken the LibDems as the fourth-largest party in the Scottish Parliament.

Of course, in the event, Alba took just 1.7% of votes cast and failed to win any seats. Just as this polling company significantly overestimated support for Alba, it is entirely possible that it also consistently underestimates support for independence.

Trends in polling are more significant when they are replicated by different polling companies over a period of time, and it does seem to be the case that recently support for Scottish independence has been dropping back from the consistent majorities it enjoyed last year.

It might be premature of opponents of independence to crow that they have the hated nationalists on the run, but it’s equally important that supporters of independence pay heed to what the polls are telling us. They tell us that no matter how venal, inept, chaotic, and corrupt the British Government might be, we cannot take support for independence for granted. It means we cannot cease making the case for independence and highlighting the shortcomings and failures of the British Government and the Conservative Party.

It is absolutely the case that the SNP and the Scottish Government need to be more proactive and assertive in making the case for independence. It is certainly true that they need to be more active and aggressive in countering the lies, scaremongering, and British nationalist gaslighting which now constitute the entirety of the case against independence, but that is also true of the more impatient sections of the Scottish independence movement, some of which seem to have abandoned any attempts to persuade undecided and soft No voters of the need for independence and instead concentrate all their anger and energies on attacking the SNP for their apparent lack of progress.

Attacking the SNP doesn’t help to bring about independence, it merely risks doing the Conservatives’ job for them. However, the best way for the SNP to quieten the internal critics within the independence movement is to demonstrate concrete progress on the road to independence.

Right now the Scottish Government is focused on dealing with a third wave of coronavirus infections. The rise in case numbers and infection rates above those which health authorities deem to represent the pandemic being under control shows we are still very far from being out of a crisis situation.

​READ MORE: Professor John Curtice tells SNP they need to fire up independence campaign

So far we have had no real indication of when a second independence referendum is going to take place other than the Scottish Government telling us we must first get out of the crisis phase of the pandemic, The problem is that this is vague and non-specific.

Just as the Scottish Government has relied on the data of case numbers and infection rates in order to plot a route out of lockdown restrictions, it could go a long way towards re-assuring its critics and doubters within the independence movement by specifying the case numbers, vaccination numbers and hospitalisation and infection rates that would constitute having the epidemic sufficiently under control to fire the starting pistol on the second independence referendum campaign.

That would provide supporters of independence with a much needed degree of re-assurance, allow the Scottish Government to demonstrate that its first priority is tackling the immediate crisis of the epidemic, and signal that the SNP remain dedicated to delivering on its manifesto commitment to another referendum within this Parliamentary term.