Scottish independence: Yes/No enter final week battle

THE rival camps in the Scottish independence debate are embarking on a concerted effort to win over undecided voters as a clutch of polls failed to give any decisive indication as to how the country will vote in Thursday’s referendum.
Better Together leader Alistair Darling and First Minister Alex Salmond at the second television debate. Picture: PABetter Together leader Alistair Darling and First Minister Alex Salmond at the second television debate. Picture: PA
Better Together leader Alistair Darling and First Minister Alex Salmond at the second television debate. Picture: PA

With the contest delicately poised, Downing Street said David Cameron will use his final campaign visit tomorrow to issue a stark warning to waverers that there could be “no going back” if they chose to “break up our family of nations”.

But First Minister Alex Salmond insisted the Yes campaign had the momentum to carry it to victory despite telecoms firms becoming the latest sector of the business community to spell out the potential costs to the country of leaving the United Kingdom.

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The latest polling continued to suggest the contest remained too close to call, with several showing a slim lead for the No camp and one suggesting the pro-independence side had a lead of eight points - the reverse of the picture in a poll commissioned by Better Together.

No leads by 50.6% to 49.4% according to Panelbase for the Sunday Times and - with undecideds taken out - by 53% to 47% in research by Opinium for the Observer.

An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph put Yes camp in front by 54% to 46%, although it had a smaller than usual sample size of 705.

And a Survation poll commissioned by Better Together found that 54% plan to vote No while 46% intend to say Yes, factoring out undecided voters.

Despite the narrow differences, the leader of the Better Together campaign, Labour former chancellor Alistair Darling, sounded a significantly optimistic tone about chances of a rejection of independence.

“We will win, be in no doubt about it. I know, because I see them every day, our returns are good,” he told the Observer.

On the campaign trail, an equally upbeat Mr Salmond said: “What matters is what’s happening in the streets and communities around Scotland.

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“The Yes side has the momentum and that’s going to carry us through next Thursday and that’s because we’ve got a positive message, we want to build a more prosperous economy and a fairer society, and there’s no scare story that the No campaign can mobilise which competes with that positive vision for the future of Scotland.”

Mr Cameron will make what No 10 said was his 10th visit north of the border this year, and is expected to tell voters: “This is a decision that could break up our family of nations and rip Scotland from the rest of the UK.

“And we must be very clear. There’s no going back from this. No re-run. This is a once-and-for-all decision.

“If Scotland votes yes, the UK will split, and we will go our separate ways forever.”

He will say it is not a question about “whether Scotland is a nation”.

“Scotland is a proud, strong, successful nation. The vote on Thursday is about two competing visions for Scotland’s future.

“The Nationalists’ vision of narrowing down, going it alone, breaking all ties with the UK. Or the patriotic vision of a strong Scottish nation allied to the rest of the United Kingdom with its own stronger Scottish Parliament at its heart and with the benefits of UK co-operation on jobs, pensions, healthcare funding, the currency, interest rates.”

It came as leading phone companies became the latest sector to join a chorus of warnings from the business community about the potential negative consequences of a Yes vote.

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The chief executives of BT, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, EE and Three published an open letter which suggested their costs could rise and affect plans for improvements such as the roll out of faster broadband.

Banks have revealed contingency plans to relocate south of the border and major retailers have raised the prospect of higher prices in what pro-independence campaigners claim is part of a campaign co-ordinated by Westminster.

A survey of FTSE 100 chairmen for the Sunday Telegraph found nearly 80% believed independence would have a significant negative economic effect on the UK - up from 66% in the same survey in February by headhunter Korn Ferry.

Mr Salmond was forced to distance himself however from threats of a “day of reckoning” against firms that spoke out against independence issued by former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars.

Media tycoon and Scottish Sun owner Rupert Murdoch also spent the day touring parts of Scotland, amid speculation over which side of the battle the newspaper will come out in favour.

“Tried 24 hours incognito Scottish visit (failed!). No politicians, just street and pub talks. Glasgow, Aberdeen, Rosehearty. Great people,” he wrote on Twitter but remained tightlipped about the referendum itself.

Mr Salmond said he had not met with Mr Murdoch.

He said: “Mr Murdoch is quite entitled to be in Scotland, I’ve been campaigning today and I’m sure he’s having a great time here in Scotland with the weather like the rest of us.”