The results of the latest ICM/Guardian poll, which excluded “don’t knows”, came a day after YouGov gave No a lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Last week, a YouGov survey put the Yes camp in the lead for the first time.
Yes campaigners acknowledged that the vote was “on a knife edge”, but said they remained confident of victory.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We’re seeing changes in the polls but it’s all within the margin of error, so we’ve got work to do. 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. 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”.
He said: “The interventions of the last few days from the likes of Standard Life, Asda and Tesco Bank brought home the huge risks of separation.
“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.”
The latest gauge of public opinion came as more business leaders and economists added their voices to a growing band of high-profile organisations opposed to independence.
Economists at Deutsche Bank warned that Scottish independence would be as big a mistake as the economic decision that led to the Great Depression in the United States. The bank produced a paper, called Scotland: Wrong Turn, which was drawn up by its chief economist, David Folkerts-Landau. He said a Yes vote next Thursday would “go down in history as a political and economic mistake as large as … the failure of the [US] Federal Reserve to provide sufficient liquidity”, sparking the Great Depression.
He added: “These decisions – well-intentioned as they were – contributed to years of depression and suffering and could have been avoided had alternative decisions been taken.”
He also raised doubts over the future credit rating of an independent Scotland.
Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson also took a stance against independence yesterday, saying he believed Scotland could have the “best of both worlds” within the UK.
“As a businessman, considering Scotland’s economy, prosperity and security, I think it is imperative it stays in the Union,” he wrote on his website, alongside pictures of his Glaswegian wife, Joan Templeman. He also called for further devolution for the Scottish Parliament.
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 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 left the UK.
Mr King, who stepped down in July, said higher distribution costs and business rates north of the Border would increase costs for standalone Scottish firms – 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.
Mr King said: “The reality is, at the moment, supermarkets run a national business in the United Kingdom. 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, then inevitably prices would be higher.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont backed his claims. She said: “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, but those costs are spread across the shopping bills of 65 million people rather than five million people. A Yes vote ends that for ever. That means higher bills, guaranteed by a Yes vote.”
The pro-independence campaign has claimed customers would merely vote with their feet and shop at retailers that did not raise prices.
Sir Ian Cheshire, the head of B&Q owner Kingfisher, is also expected to sign the letter due to be published this weekend. The company has already stated its opposition to independence.
Yesterday, it emerged that Terry Scuoler, the chief executive of EEF – the UK body that represents manufacturers – has donated £10,000 to the Better Together campaign and warned that independence would create “a nightmare scenario”.
However, the head of pub chain Wetherspoons has bucked the trend of major UK corporations in saying he sees “no reason” why Scotland could not be successful after independence.
Tim Martin, whose company operates more than 900 pubs UK-wide, including about 75 north of the Border, said he believed Scotland could thrive.
“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 hailed his support. He said: “Tim Martin’s comments 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 – suggests everything is still to play for, with some 17 per cent of voters saying they have still not made up their minds. If those undecided voters are included, rounded figures leave No on 42 per cent and Yes on 40 per cent.
Some 88 per cent of those questioned by ICM said they were “absolutely certain to vote”.
Support for independence was strongest among the 25-34 age group, while those 65 and over backed No by 61 to 39 per cent. Women wanted to stay in the UK by 55 to 45 per cent, while men favoured independence by 52 to 48 per cent. Asked “how risky” they thought independence was, just over a quarter described it as “a huge risk”, 13 per cent said it was “no risk at all” and 56 per cent put it somewhere in between.