Westminster’s political heavyweights pressed the panic button last night in the race to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom, spurred into action by a shock poll showing the campaign for independence edging ahead for the first time.
The damning new figures by YouGov show the Better Together campaign, backed by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, squandering a 22-point lead in just one month.
“I thought it was definitely going to be a No vote until last Monday... but now I don’t know,” YouGov’s politics expert Anthony Wells told City A.M. (see p.10 for interview).
Leaders of all three political parties are busy making last minute arrangements to send their top ranking MPs and ministers north of the border this week, in a concerted last-ditch attempt to win support for the union. The Queen is also understood to be concerned about the impact of a Yes vote, and the unchartered territory it would leave the monarchy in in Scotland.
Big hitters including Gordon Brown and John Prescott for Labour, Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy for the Lib Dems and a number of senior Conservative cabinet ministers are all making the trip. David Cameron and Ed Miliband are expecting to join the campaign trail later in the week with high-profile speeches and visits arranged.
The poll, published yesterday in the Sunday Times, put the Yes camp ahead on 51 per cent compared to 49 per cent for No. The research by YouGov shows voters see the Yes campaign as the more positive, while the No camp has also lost the edge when it comes to honesty. When it comes to economics, a key part of the Better Together campaign’s case for union, 40 per cent of voters now believe Scotland would be better off if it were independent, compared to 27 per cent back in June.
Leader of the Better Together campaign, Labour’s Alistair Darling, warned yesterday that voting for independence would mean separation “forever”, adding: “These polls can and must now serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thought the referendum result was a foregone conclusion. It never was. It will go down to the wire. Now is the time to speak up and speak out.”
The No campaign has been accused of complacency and of a stubborn refusal to discuss what currency Scotland might use if it voted to become independent. Chancellor George Osborne reiterated the Westminster government’s stance yesterday, telling the BBC: “No ifs, no buts, we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the UK.”
Yet Osborne appeared to offer a last-minute deal to Scottish nationalists who want Scots to have a greater say over finances and policy. The proposal, which Osborne hinted would be announced in a matter of days, could go further than current devolution plans. The Yes campaign’s Blair Jenkins dismissed the offer as “a panic reaction” yesterday.