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Can Alex Salmond be the comeback kid? Yes or No

ZIGGY played guitar, and in his spare time became involved in the Scottish independence referendum.

Who saw that one coming? Anybody?

To watch Kate Moss at the Brit Awards, dressed as David Bowie and delivering his plea, "Scotland, stay with us", before a television audience of millions, was the moment the independence debate slipped from the real to the surreal, from the realm of politics to psychedelia. Now we all now what it was like to live through the 1960s.

Steven Camley's cartoon 

Perhaps there was one person whose dreams foretold the intervention by Bowie, henceforth to be known as the Thin White Duke of the Better Together campaign, for if there is one person in the country with disturbed sleep at the moment it is surely Alex Salmond, the First Minister.

Like some poor, flooded householder in the south of England, Mr Salmond must be wondering what is coming down the pipe next. First came the gentle rain on his parade that was the Governor of the Bank of England's speech on currency union. Slightly concerning, but no major damage occurred to the idea that an independent Scotland's use of the pound was possible. But then came not one, not two, but three storms from the south. Hurricanes George, Ed and Danny sent the water surging through the front door and up the walls. Sandbags were deployed by the Scottish Government but ministers took so long responding they might as well have nipped over to Saudi Arabia to fill them. Not to be left out, Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, opened another cold front with the declaration that an independent Scotland would find it difficult if not impossible to join the EU.

Just when the insurance company and the fiscal commission were on their way, in comes a freak blast from the Brit Awards, of all places. What does a First Minister have to do to get a break around here?

Since we are in the mood for surreality, here is another interpretation of these events, one prompted by the appearance on a news programme of Pat Kane, a member of the advisory board of Yes Scotland and, like the Thin White New York Dwelling Pensioner, a pop star. Asked if the campaign was having a bad week, Mr Kane looked so chipper anyone would have thought Hue and Cry had just landed Beyonce as a support act for their next tour. On the contrary, said Citizen K, appearing to take a licking was not just keeping the Yes campaign ticking, but had given it a boost.

At this point the court is compelled to call Mandy Rice-Davies and her celebrated defence. The Yes camp have to say everything is coming up roses even while the smell of horse manure fills the nostrils. But in keeping with the kind of week in which a 67-year-old, Brixton-born pop legend can intervene in the independence debate, what if there is something to this resurgence theory?

The comeback is the Romeo and Juliet of politics, a power play adored by politicians, the public, and the media alike. Still, look how Shakespeare's yarn turned out. American politics, spiritual home of the comeback myth, offers many examples of the bounce-back that hits a brick wall. For every Lincoln and Obama, both election losers at one point, there is a Nixon whose story ends in sobs. Both Clintons are successful comeback kids, but they have had a lot of practice. Rallying is as natural to them as breathing. In Britain, a comeback usually means finishing one's career in a quango job, or taking the gravy train to Europe. Mainland Europe is more forgiving, but even Signor Berlusconi's luck ran out eventually.

Campaigns tend to enjoy better comeback odds than individuals. In the Quebec referendum of 1995, the No camp, having consistently enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls, snoozed while the Yes campaign caught up and came within a hair's breadth of victory. Closer to home was the Scottish Parliament election of 2011. Then, it was Scottish Labour's turn to sport bed-head hair and drool on the chin as they woke up to a majority SNP Government.

To return matters to a personal level, Mr Salmond has form on the comeback front, having returned to the party leadership, and Holyrood, after standing down. In Aberdeen this week he might have sounded more like Bob the Builder than Barack the President with his "yes we can" declaration, but given his CV it is not impossible that he can bounce back from a week that would have broken another politician. Equally, he could be so royally scunnered that he takes to hiding under the duvet from now until Christmas. When even the Brit Awards are against a man, it would take a determined optimist indeed not to wonder if the universe is conspiring against him.

In his favour is the tendency of Scots to resist what they see as bullying behaviour. Anecdotally, even among those disposed to vote No, Mr Osborne's speech in Edinburgh could not have gone down worse if he had delivered it while wearing a pith helmet and pointing to a map covered in pink. Unsurprisingly, one early poll by Survation, taken after the speech and published yesterday, found a nudge upwards in the Yes vote, from 37% to 37.7%. A tiny bump, but for those expecting a surge in the No vote, it should be enough to give a pregnant pause.

Before the Yes campaign renews its order for five million balloons and party poppers to be delivered for use in September, here comes the reality check. It was hardly an accident that the intervention by Osborne et al on the currency union occurred this far in advance of polling day in September. A backlash was not just possible but probable, inevitable even. Better to have it sooner rather than later must have been the thinking, and one can see why.

What the No camp is banking on, and what is the strongest factor weighing against a comeback for Mr Salmond, is Better Together's own bounce-back after this spell of hand-to-hand, speech-to-speech combat on a currency union. Elections always come in twos. There is the official election, the one where polls appear to indicate how people will vote, and there is the unofficial one, where reality resides. So while the polls for the next week might show an uptick in the Yes campaign's fortunes, those are not the surveys that matter.

Scots might well bridle now at being told a currency union is a non-starter and want to vote Yes to show they will not be pushed around, but it is what they feel the week after, and the month after, that counts. Negative campaigning works best when it is done in a drip, drip fashion rather than as a bucket of water to the face. Not big, hardly clever, but it is effective.

Given the consistency of the polls so far in showing a majority against independence, it would take the comeback of all comebacks for the Yes camp to close the deficit, pass the No campaign, collect £200, and the keys to the country. Strange things happen in politics, as Mr Bowie's intervention proves, but that would be an oddity indeed.

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