Scottish independence poll puts Yes campaign in front

For the first time since August 2011, the nationalist side takes the lead by 44 to 43 per cent.

Until recently, every poll on Scottish independence since the beginning of 2012 had shown the No campaign in front, usually by a double-digit margin. But that trend ended today with the publication of a new Panelbase survey putting the Yes camp ahead by 44 to 43 per cent, the first time the nationalist side has led in a poll since August 2011. 

The poll was commissioned by the SNP and, as I've noted before, it's always wise to be sceptical of polls published by political parties, principally because the questions asked are often biased in favour of a particular outcome. But on the surface at least, there appear to be no oddities. 

Those polled between 23-28 August (the sample size was a respectable 1,043) were asked "There will be a referendum on an independent Scotland on 18th of September 2014. How do you intend to vote in response to the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?" In response, 44 per cent answered "Yes" (up seven points since the last Panelbase poll in July 2013) and 43 per cent answered "No" (down three points), with 13 per cent undecided. 

It's a stunning result for the SNP, and entirely at odds with the most recent YouGov poll (carried out a week earlier), which put the No campaign ahead by a record 30 points (59-29). Until other polls are published showing the nationalist side ahead, it's wise to treat survey with caution (lest it prove to be an outlier) but after months of setbacks, the result will be cited by Alex Salmond as proof of his recent claim in the New Statesman that the polls will shift in his favour as the referendum draws closer. He told Jason Cowley: "This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign. I went into an election [for the Scottish Parliament] in 2011 20 points behind in the polls and ended up 15 in front. The real game hasn’t even started. We are just clearing the ground."

In an encouraging precedent for Salmond, Panelbase was the first polling company to put the SNP ahead in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election. US polling oracle Nate Silver, who recently declared that there's "virtually no chance that the Yes side will win", is unlikely to be losing any sleep yet, but for the first time in more than two years, Salmond can point to some evidence that the battle is far from over. 

Update: Having looked at the full tables for the survey, it's now clear what might explain the anomalous result. Those polled were first asked whether they thought Scotland could be "a successful, independent country" and whether they trusted the Scottish government or Westminster to take "the best decisions for Scotland". It's likely that both questions nudged people towards supporting independence in the final question. All the more reason, as I said before, to treat the result with caution. 

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond with David Cameron at the men's Wimbledon final earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John McDonnell knows what he wants from Brexit: "This is a golden opportunity for Labour"

Meanwhile, he expects a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn within days.

In order to craft a response to Brexit, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell has put some of his personal ideological bugbears in the deep freeze.

One week on from the moment Britain realised it was out of the European Union, McDonnell pledged to fight for the single market, and in particular the right of big banks to passport services.

He told a packed press briefing: “Whilst there is a need for fundamental reform of the City we shouldn’t allow it to simply sink beneath the waves.”

He laid out the principles that Labour would go into a deal with – defending workers’ rights, protecting EU residents in the UK and vice versa, continuity of a single market, a seat at the European Investment Bank and EU passporting rights for the UK’s financial services. 

With more obvious passion, he condemned the “shocking and disappointing” rise in hate crime and also pledged to “never to vote for an EU deal” that failed to protect EU citizens living in the UK. 

As for anti-immigration sentiment, he argued this was a symptom of a wider economic inequality. Crucially, though, he has acknowledged free movement of labour will come to an end

He urged party colleagues to rally to the cause: "When the Tories are in such disarray, this is a golden opportunity for us."

But for all McDonnell’s determination to get his foot in the door of Brexit negotiations, it was hard to shake the feeling he was rearranging the deckchairs on a slowly tilting ship. 

Unfortunately the deal, like almost everything in the Brexit aftermath, is as unpredictable as the high seas.

First, there is the leadership challenge. Despite the lull following the vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, his first mate admitted that a leadership challenge could still be imminent.

He said: “If there is to be a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, that will emerge I suspect over the next few days.”

McDonnell repeated he will never stand – “full stop”. He pledged to chair what he described as Corbyn’s automatic place on a re-election ticket. 

Should the rebel Labour MPs fail to capsize the Corbyn leadership, though, it will still be tough for a half-abandoned shadow cabinet to have its voice heard, whether in Parliament or on the international stage.

To bursts of applause from supporters, McDonnell praised the “heroes and heroines” who had stepped up to fill their colleagues’ empty chairs. 

But he ended with a plea: “We’ll cover all the bases, but wouldn’t it be better if people came back and worked with us?”

Finally, only hinted at during McDonnell's briefing, there are the EU negotiators themselves. When asked whether he would vote against Brexit if the final deal contained none of these demands, McDonnell said: “We have to respect the decision that was made. Otherwise we undermine all confidence in the democratic process.”

At a time when both main political parties are in turmoil, the embattled shadow chancellor is astute to chart a course for the negotiations on the horizon. But his chances of getting there could be scuppered within days.