Scottish independence: Yes 49%, No 51% in ICM poll

Picture: HeMedia

Picture: HeMedia

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SCOTLAND’S future is hanging in the balance as a new poll showed just a two percentage point gap between a Yes and a No vote.

The latest survey by ICM found 51 per cent of people said they would reject independence, while 49 per cent said the would vote Yes in next week’s referendum.

The results, which excluded “don’t knows”, comes a day after a poll by You Gov - which last week put the “Yes” camp in the lead for the first time - give No a narrow lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Pro-independence campaigners admitted that the debate was “on a knife edge”, but said they remained confident of a victory.

“We’re seeing changes in the polls but it’s all within the margin of error, so we’ve got work to do,” said deputy first minister Nicola

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Sturgeon. “It’s very close, I believe things are moving in the direction of Yes but the only poll that really matters is the one next week. We’re now within a few days of finding out what people really think through real votes and ballot boxes.

“With every day that passes polls become less important and the focus on the actual poll becomes more important.”

Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said the “fight for the future of Scotland” would “go right down to the wire”.

“The interventions of the last few days from the likes of Standard Life, Asda and Tesco Bank brought home the huge risks of separation,” he said. “There is no room for a protest vote in the referendum. The jobs and pensions of millions of Scots are at risk. The money we have to spend on our NHS is at risk. And it’s clear that prices would have to rise if we go it alone. That’s not our campaign saying these things - it’s the experts and employers at some of Scotland’s biggest companies saying this.”

The latest poll comes as more business leaders added their voices to a growing band of retailers who are opposed to independence.

A raft of financial services companies this week said they would move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote, while supermarket Asda yesterday warned of higher prices in an independent Scotland.

Justin King, former head of supermarket Sainsbury’s, said it was “inevitable” that food retailers would have to raise prices if Scotland goes it alone.

Mr King, who stepped down from the supermaket giant in July, warned that higher distribution costs and business rates north of the border would increase costs for standa lone Scottish bueinesses - which would be passed down to the consumer.

More business leaders - including Marks and Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland - are expected to publish a letter stating their opposition to a Yes vote this weekend.

“The reality is at the moment, supermarkets run a national business in the United Kingdom,” said Mr King. “At the moment, that is spread across the whole business. But it is more expensive to do business in Scotland today. Business rates are higher, distribution costs are higher.

“If Scotland was to be an independent country today, with businesses run separately in Scotland, as inevitablty will be the case if it was a separate country, then inevitably prices would be higher.”

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont backed Mr King’s claims.

“The supermarkets currently have one price the length and breadth of the UK. The cost of moving goods around Scotland has always been higher than in other parts of the UK,” she said.

“But those costs are spread across the shopping bills of 65 million people rather than five million people. A Yes vote ends that forever. That means higher bills, guaranteed by a Yes vote.”

The pro-independence campaign, however, has claimed that customers would merely vote with their feet and shop at retailers which have not raised prices.

The head of DIY chain B&Q is also expected to sign the letter at the weekend. The company has already stated its opposition to independence, claiming it too would have to raise its prices - and implement an investment hiatus in Scotland, where the firm employs approximately 5,500 people.

However, the maverick head of pubs chain Wetherspoons has bucked the trend of major UK corporations in saying he sees “no reason” why Scotland could not be successful as an independent nation.

Tim Martin, whose company operates more than 900 pubs UK wide, including around 75 north of the border, said he believed Scotland could thrive apart from the UK.

“There’s no reason in theory why Scotland shouldn’t become a very successful independent country,” he said. “New Zealand has the same population, Singapore has a small population and an incredibly successful economy, Switzerland as well. There’s a lot of nonsense talked, particularly by businessmen, but also politicians to say that it’s impossible for Scotland to survive successfully by itself.”

Finance Secretary John Swinney welcomed Mr Martin’s support. Wetherspoons has opened six new pubs in Scotland in the past four months.

“Tim Martin’s comments today are very welcome – confirming the strong business confidence in Scotland and showing the desperate Tory-inspired scaremongering of the No campaign isn’t working.”

The latest poll - conducted between Tuesday and Thursday - suggested that everything remains to play for, with some 17 per cent of voters saying they have still not made up their minds. If undecided voters are included, rounded figures leave No on 42 per cent and Yes on 40 per cent.

Interviews for the survey were conducted after a survey last weekend galvanised the independence debate by giving Yes a lead for the first time in the campaign. Opinions were gathered against the backdrop of hastily-arranged campaign visits to Scotland by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, which were denounced by the Yes camp as a panicked response by “Team Westminster” to the appearance that victory was slipping out of their grasp.

Some 87 per cent of those questioned by ICM said they were “absolutely certain to vote”.

Support for independence was strongest among 25-34s, while those aged 65-plus backed No by 61 per cent to 39 per cent. Scottish women wanted to remain in the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, while men favoured independence by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Asked “how risky” they think independence is, just over a quarter of Scots described it as “a huge risk”, 13 per cent as “no risk at all” and 56 per cent as somewhere in between.

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