THE Better Together campaign last night received a much-needed boost when a new opinion poll put support for a No vote six points ahead of Yes.
A Survation survey of 1,000 Scots suggested 47.6 per cent intend to vote No next week compared with 42.4 per cent for Yes.
When the 10 per cent who said they were still undecided were excluded, the poll indicated that No would win with a vote of 53 per cent over 47 per cent for Yes.
While the latest figures suggest that the battle for Scotland and the UK is still extremely tight, it will offer some relief for the No campaign.
The findings are the first to suggest that the dramatic surge for Yes over the last couple of weeks may have stalled.
A series of polls showed that Alex Salmond’s battle for independence has eaten into Better Together’s long established lead.
The Yes campaign’s confidence grew at the weekend when a YouGov poll became the first to put Yes ahead at 51 per cent to 49 per cent for No, with “don’t knows” excluded.
Earlier this week the YouGov poll was followed by a TNS poll, which also suggested the campaigns were neck-and-neck after a 12 point surge for Yes. TNS put Yes support on 38 per cent with 39 per cent for No.
The narrowing of the polls and the very real prospect of a Yes victory has been greeted with concern in the financial markets and the business world.
Yesterday the multinational oil companies Shell and BP both spoke out against independence, saying that the North Sea industry was best served by Scotland remaining in the UK.
Those interventions, along with an announcement from the major Scottish employer Standard Life, warning that a Yes vote could see the company transfer pensions, investments and savings held by UK customers to new regulated companies set up in England, prompted the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, to label yesterday “Alex Salmond’s Black Wednesday”.
BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley also said that he supported Sir Ian Wood’s predictions that North Sea oil reserves had been overestimated by the Scottish Government by up to 60 per cent.
Sir Ian, one of the oil industry’s most respected figures, has taken issue with Scottish Government predictions, which claim that 24 billion barrels remain in the North Sea. Sir Ian believes the true figure to be around 16 billion barrels.
Mr Dudley said: “BP has been in the North Sea for 50 years and we hope to operate here for many years to come. However, the province is now mature and I believe Sir Ian Wood correctly assesses its future potential.
“The opportunities today are smaller and more challenging to develop than in the past. We also face the challenges of extending the productive life of existing assets and managing the future costs of decommissioning.
“Much of this activity requires fiscal support to be economic, and future long-term investments require fiscal stability and certainty.
“Our business invests for decades into the future. It is important our plans are based on a realistic view of the North Sea’s future potential and the challenges the industry faces in continuing to operate here.
“As a major investor in Scotland – now and into the future – BP believes that the future prospects for the North Sea are best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Dudley’s counterpart in Shell, Ben van Beurden, also said Scotland would be better off in the UK.
In a statement yesterday, Mr van Beurden said: “Sir Ian Wood is right in his technical assessment that the amount of remaining oil and gas that can be profitably extracted from the UK North Sea is a function of price and cost.
“As existing infrastructure gets older and output falls, costs will go up and tax receipts will come down.
“Furthermore, much of the UK North Sea’s remaining oil and gas – which is yet to be discovered and developed – is in isolated or hard-to-reach areas, which are potentially uneconomic without sharing of existing infrastructure and improved tax incentives.”
Meanwhile, Standard Life’s contingency plan came to light in a letter written by the company’s chief executive David Nish.
The plan has been drawn up to ensure that all transactions with the 90 per cent of its 3.8 million customers from outside Scotland would continue to be in sterling and would be protected by City regulations and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
The company, which has 5,000 employees in Scotland and has been based north of the Border for 189 years, said the plan had been put in place to “ensure continuity and peace of mind”.
At Westminster, the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told MPs an independent Scotland would need to amass billions of pounds in currency reserves if it used sterling without UK Government agrement.
He said a Scottish central bank could need at least 25 per cent and possibly more than 100 per cent of GDP in reserves. Mr
Carney said Scottish GDP was £106 billion. Last night Mr Alexander said: “This is the day the economic case for separation died and reality that independence will cost jobs, investment, and growth dawned. Today is Alex Salmond’s Black Wednesday.
“Mark Carney said that if we walk away from the UK we would have to build foreign currency reserves worth billions of pounds. Today, the meaning of that became clear – Standard Life moving business out of Scotland, and Sir Ian Wood, BP and Shell made clear that the oil industry would be weakened.”
“Voters can now be certain that separation will cost jobs, halt investment, and reduce the money we have for public services and the NHS.”
Kenny Anderson of the Yes-supporting group Business for Scotland said: “These statements come as one of the UK’s leading oil economists, Professor Alex Kemp of the University of Aberdeen, today predicts a potential North Sea bonus of 99 new discoveries in the next 30 years.
“Professor Kemp is extremely well respected – even the No campaign listen to what he says.”