BORIS Johnson is, according to the SNP’s longest-serving MP, the “biggest recruiting sergeant” for independence.

Pete Wishart has said that several times, including to the Prime Minister directly. Now Johnson’s jaiket’s on a shoogly peg and speculation about whether or not he’ll be able to keep living next to Number 10’s “partygate” garden is rife. Rishi Sunak – notably absent from Wednesday’s PMQs apology – is already more popular than de Pfeffel, according to recent polling, while Cabinet colleague Liz Truss If Wishart’s right about Johnson’s value to Scottish independence support then could a new Downing Street don be bad news for the Yes movement? “He’s the visible aspect of the battle for our independence but he’s not the reason for it,” Wishart says. “I don’t think it’ll make a jot of difference.

“The whole case for the union seems to be turning in on itself,” he adds about the very public fighting now unfolding between Jacob Rees-Mogg, Douglas Ross, Michael Gove, Ruth Davidson and others. “They just don’t know how to take us on any more. Everything is falling into place for us.”

Wishart’s optimism is pegged in part to polling that shows a recovery of support for Yes from the “blip” at the beginning of last year. Research produced in December put support for independence at 55%. Then on Boxing Day a poll for the Sunday Mail newspaper – the only post-partygate survey carried out in Scotland – found only 18% trusted Johnson and 77% thought he’d lied about Covid rule-breaking. A Westminster voting intention rating of just 17% for the Conservatives puts them at their least popular level since 2015.

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The poll also showed Labour on the rise, suggesting Keir Starmer’s party would secure a vote share second only to the SNP. That’s significant, politics Professor John Curtice says, and could mean pro-Union voters are ready to shift allegiance. But he says there’s no evidence that partygate will itself win hearts and minds for independence.

“We have to conclude that all of this has done some damage to the Tories,” he says, “but given that everyone who voted for the SNP last May is in favour of independence, we are not suddenly going to get a whole load of people moving in the nationalist direction. They may go and vote for a different party.

“There’s a need to know what the vision for independence is and be persuaded of its merits.

“If indeed you accept that there has been a material change in circumstances since 2014,” he continues, referring to Brexit, “then the argument for independence is not going to be the same. That’s absolutely fundamental to the debate.”

Writer and commentator Dr Kirsty Hughes agrees that it’s the arguments for and against change that really matter. But Johnson’s behaviour prompts an “emotional” reaction as well as a rational one, she says, and she “can’t imagine it’s going to help any of the likely successors”.

“Depending on who is going to be the next Tory prime minister, it might take some of the emotion out it ,” she says. “It may affect the dynamics a bit but I’m not sure any of the obvious contenders can really pull it back for the Tories.”

She adds that it’ll take more than a personnel change to push the needle on independence higher. That, she says, will require “some more energy and focus from Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government – something for people to respond to and engage with”.

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“You’ve got Johnson just a complete farce, you’ve got the local elections coming up, you’ve got Nicola Sturgeon saying we hope there’s space to talk about an independence referendum, these things could come together and create something much more dynamic in the coming weeks and months,” Hughes concludes. “The Tories don’t have a lot of time to recoup this.”

Johnson’s been staunch in his opposition to a second referendum, but so have many of his Cabinet.

For Dennis Canavan, the former chair of Yes Scotland, it’s not the identify of the prime minister that matters. “The case for independence was never predicated on the unpopularity of Boris Johnson,” the former MP and MSP says. “I strongly support the calls for Johnson to resign but the stench of Westminster sleaze and corruption will remain and I do not see any of Johnson’s would-be successors doing any better to promote the Unionist cause.

“An increasing number of the people of Scotland now realise that the United Kingdom as a political entity is indefensible. Even if Johnson is replaced tomorrow there would still be a glaring democratic deficit in that the people of Scotland would still be ruled by a UK Government which we rejected at the ballot box. We must concentrate on promoting a positive vision of independence rather than relying on the unpopularity of whoever happens to have the keys to Downing Street.”

Former SNP spin doctor Kevin Pringle, now of communications agency Charlotte Street Partners, adds it is “true that the case for independence can only be won on a positive platform, and there are downsides in overly investing it in any individual incumbent of Downing Street – no matter how bad – because they are all ultimately here today and gone tomorrow”.

But he believes Johnson has done “permanent damage to the Union by showing how dysfunctional and damaging it can be, in a similar way to how Mrs Thatcher’s governments reinforced the need for a Scottish parliament. Her replacement by someone less abrasive – and eventually by a Labour government at Westminster – didn’t reverse or dilute the demand for self-government that had built up through the 1980s,” he adds.

“In any event, Boris’s Brexit legacy – the underlying drag on the Union in Scotland and Northern Ireland – will still be causing significant harm after he has been ejected from office.”