THE battle for Scotland’s future could be thrown into the balance if the pro-UK side stops short of a cast-iron commitment to hand more powers to the Scottish Parliament, a new poll reveals today.
In a survey by ICM, for Scotland on Sunday, one in ten No voters say they will either change sides or think again if they believe that Holyrood will not be given more say over taxation and welfare.
The poll shows that, among people who have decided how to vote, the No side would score a victory of 60 per cent to 40 per cent in the referendum – which will be held in a year this week.
However, that lead shrinks from 55 per cent to 45 per cent when people are asked to assume that a No vote would result in no extra powers for the Scottish Parliament.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg says that Labour and the Conservatives must now make an unambiguous commitment to a more powerful Scottish Parliament, to woo hesitant voters to the pro-UK camp. He says: “People like me need to challenge Ed Miliband and David Cameron to look at the alternative vision to independence. It can’t be the status quo.”
Clegg also insisted that efforts to drive further Scottish devolution could not be held back by a lack of enthusiasm for reforms in the regions of England.
He said: “I do not want to see the further expression of Scottish nationhood being somehow held hostage by a debate on what’s happening in English local government.”
Today’s poll of 1,000 Scottish voters will provide comfort for both sides as the campaign marks the symbolic One Year to Go stage this week.
The No camp has a majority of voters in all age groups, with a remarkable 74 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds now saying that they oppose independence. A total of 63 per cent of over-65s are also in the No camp, with nearly all pensioners now saying they are clear what they plan to do.
However, one in five respondents say they have not yet made up their minds, while many others admit that they may change tack, suggesting that there is clear evidence that the polls could easily change.
Both Labour and the Conservatives are now preparing their own internal reports on the future of devolution, with both expected to report back next year ahead of the referendum.
The ICM poll reveals that, once again, there is a clear majority in favour of further devolution to Edinburgh. If Scotland votes No, then 59 per cent of respondents want Holyrood to become primarily responsible for making decisions about taxation and welfare.
The poll also asked No voters what they would do if they concluded that those powers were not likely to be forthcoming. Six per cent said they would change to a Yes if they concluded those powers were not forthcoming, while a further 5 per cent said they would no longer know how to vote.
Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said last night: “If these voters were to switch sides – or in the case of those who are unsure what they would do, abstain – then the Yes vote would increase from 40 per cent to 45 per cent.”
Clegg, who arrived in Glasgow for the Lib Dem conference yesterday, says today that the pro-UK camp needs to spell out its backing for more devolution.
He says: “I don’t think you need to cross every T and dot every I. I think it is so important for the Conservative and Labour parties to politically commit themselves to further devolution in the event of a No vote.”
He adds: “Every time I speak to Scottish friends, they say we don’t want all the risks and disruption of yanking Scotland out of the UK but, equally, we want Scottish nationhood and identity to be more fully expressed in our institutions. Well, I completely agree with that.”
Leader of the Better Together campaign Alistair Darling said that, despite having held a clear lead since the start of the contest, the battle remains far from over.
“There is a very substantial number of people in Scotland who have yet to make up their minds,” he said.
Meanwhile, in comments released today to mark the 18 September countdown, Prime Minister David Cameron uses emotive language to call on Scots to remain part of the “UK family”.
“I hope passionately that Scotland decides to remain within our United Kingdom. What we have works, and it works well.
“We are a family of nations within one United Kingdom. Now is not the time to reduce that relationship to one of second cousins, once removed,” he says.
On the poll, Martin Boon of ICM said: “With the independence referendum now one year away, the first SoS/ICM poll shows that the No camp have a decent-sized lead [Yes 40 per cent, No 60 per cent] but it is by no means unassailable.”
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, welcomed the poll findings last night. He said: “A potential Yes vote of 45 per cent at this stage is an excellent place to be with a year to go – and we know that devolving welfare, for example, has been expressly ruled out by Westminster parties,” he said.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP said: “There is a long way to go in this campaign and we are taking nothing for granted. It is important that people see a vote for the Union as one that will lead to a positive, prosperous and stable future for our country.”
ICM Research interviewed a sample of 1,002 members of the Scottish public, online between 10 and 13 September, 2013. Interviews were conducted across Scotland and the results have been weighted to the profile of all Scottish adults aged 16 and over.
This month, a YouGov poll indicated 59 per cent of Scots rejected independence, an increase of 4 percentage points on a similar poll published at the end of October 2012.