FIRST Minister Alex Salmond spent the afternoon at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square yesterday, just a short stroll from his official residence Bute House.
He shared a stage with one of his favourite authors, William McIlvanney, to discuss and read from his books. He might also have been tempted to try to recruit the writer to pen an introduction to the Scottish Government's keenly awaited White Paper on independence - and be quick about it.
A rumour has been doing the rounds this week that the White Paper, the SNP's detailed blueprint for how an independent Scotland would work in practice, is to be brought forward from November to September. September 18, to be precise, the referendum's year-to-go milestone. Senior Government, party and Yes campaign sources have steered rumour-hungry hacks away from the story, which is why you are reading about it in the untamed wilds of this column rather than the orderly, manicured landscape of the news pages. But Government sources didn't absolutely deny it and the idea is being taken seriously by some observers.
There would be significant advantages to bringing forward the White Paper, certainly to a date before the SNP conference in mid-October when the party faithful will be clamouring to see it. Early publication might also catch the pro-UK camp, which is itching to attack the SNP's prospectus, on the hop. Equally, though, there is a serious danger it would be seen as a panic measure, a sign the Government had lost control of its own carefully planned referendum timetable. It could be taken as an admission the whole Yes campaign had been blown badly off course.
Whenever the White Paper comes and whatever it looks like (the hotly-tipped Mr McIlvanney said yesterday that he'd not been asked to contribute) the speculation is a sign of how important it has become. A couple of weeks ago I suggested the document might not be quite as comprehensive as first promised given the number of Government-appointed expert policy groups due to report next year. But despite that the White Paper is still seen as a potential game changer for the Yes campaign, which continues to trail in the polls and badly needs a boost. Campaign chiefs want headline support for independence, currently becalmed at around 33%, to be up at 40% by Christmas, a healthy surge that would carry them into the New Year with that vital political commodity momentum behind them. If the White Paper does have the power to persuade some of the 44% of undecided voters out there, publishing it sooner rather than later would obviously help meet that unofficial target.
It's probably no coincidence that attention fell on the White Paper at the end of a week when people queued up to offer the Yes campaign the benefit of their advice.
First, Elaine C Smith, the actress and leading Yes Scotland campaigner, spoke of the need to "reclaim" the referendum campaign from Mr Salmond, acknowledging that, despite his consistently high popularity ratings, he was proving a turn-off for some voters. Then former SNP leader Gordon Wilson took a swipe at the passionless "robot" Yes campaign and urged the SNP to focus on the argument that London was a ruinous drain not just on Scotland but the whole of the rest of the UK.
Finally pollsters Ipsos MORI weighed in, suggesting the Yes campaign should present a more radical vision of independence. In that atmosphere it's no wonder people are starting to talk about game changers.
One other has emerged - the possibility that opinion polls in the run-up to the referendum next year might be pointing to an outright Conservative victory in the 2015 UK General Election. Westminster political commentator Steve Richards has been telling audiences at his Rock 'n Roll Politics show on the Festival Fringe that the polls won't be saying that. The race will remain tight, he believes. But the SNP's relentless attacks on Ed Miliband suggest that Alex Salmond still sees a game changer there - and is determined to capitalise if Labour falters.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.