THE fight for Scotland’s future is now neck and neck, according to a poll that puts the Yes and No camps exactly level ahead of next week’s independence referendum.
Today’s survey by pollster TNS puts both sides at 41 per cent among those who are definitely going to vote. Taking into account all respondents, the gap is only one percentage point, with 38 per cent saying Yes and 39 per cent No.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown yesterday set out plans for devolution of further powers to Holyrood in the event of a No vote, following a separate poll by YouGov on Sunday that put the Yes camp ahead for the first time.
That survey fuelled fears over the economy. The pound fell to a ten-month low – just below 1.62 against the US dollar – and the share prices of some Scottish companies were down.
Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Weir Group and Standard Life all saw shares fall as the markets reacted to Sunday’s poll. The FTSE 100 Index closed last night 1 per cent down.
The gap between the Yes and No campaigns has tightened sharply in recent weeks, with Sunday’s poll putting Yes at 51 per cent and No at 49 per cent – overturning a 22-point lead for the pro-Union side since a month ago.
Today’s poll of 990 people sees backing for Yes up three points from 38 per cent last month, while support for No is down five points from 46 per cent. There could be some 600,000 voters who have still to make up their minds, with 18 per cent saying they are certain to vote in the referendum but still unsure how they will cast their ballot.
The number of women backing independence appears to be rising, up from 27 per cent to 35 per cent, while female support for No has dropped from 49 per cent to 41 per cent.
According to TNS, the only group where No has a strong majority is among those aged 55 and above, with 49 per cent stating they want Scotland to stay in the UK, compared with 31 per cent who back leaving.
Last night, Mr Brown set out plans for a “modern form of home rule” in the event of a No vote, saying proposals for more devolution would be published by St Andrew’s Day, with draft laws in place by Burns Night.
The Scottish leaders of the three main pro-Union parties are expected to announce toay their formal support for the plan. The Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson, Labour’s Johann Lamont and Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie are expected to host a joint press conference to outline their agreement with the timetable.
Speaking in Edinburgh yesterday as the pound and share prices reacted to Sunday’s poll, No campaign leader and former chancellor Alistair Darling said uncertainty in the markets was “bad news for everyone”.
He said: “Markets don’t like uncertainty, and for as long as there’s uncertainty, you will get a bit of jitteriness in the system.
“But what’s causing the uncertainty is that if Scotland were to leave the UK, what currency would we be using? What impact would it have on spending? That’s where the uncertainty is coming from. The other thing that I know from my own experience as chancellor of the Exchequer is that if you do get that uncertainty, it does affect the country’s ability to generate the wealth that we need to fund things like the health service.”
The SNP insisted the market worries stemmed from the UK government refusing to discuss a currency union. It also described the promises of more powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote as a last-minute “bribe”.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “If there’s uncertainty here, the blame for the uncertainty has to lie with the UK government.”
Shares in Lloyds and RBS fell almost 3.5 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively during trading, while insurer Standard Life dropped by about 3 per cent and energy supplier SSE by more than 2.4 per cent.
Babcock International, which carries out Royal Navy work at its Rosyth Dockyard, was 5 per cent down. The firm had previously warned a Yes vote would lead to “additional risk and uncertainty” for the business.
Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said: “If Scotland decides to go down the road of a new currency, what effect does that have on [these companies’] Scottish assets and the valuations of their Scottish assets? We don’t know.
“One thing is certain: if we get this sort of volatility on the prospect of a Yes vote, can you imagine the reaction if we do get a Yes vote? It’s not likely to be pretty.”
Ian McDougall, board member of pro-independence think tank Business for Scotland, said Chancellor George Osborne was to blame. He said: “A responsible chancellor would have reassured, pointing out that these fluctuations are not out of the ordinary. A responsible chancellor would have followed the lead of the Governor of the Bank of England, and worked towards stability and made plans for how to operate after the Yes vote. A responsible chancellor would never have bluffed against a currency union and sharing the pound with an independent Scotland, given how important Scotland’s exports and assets clearly are to sterling.”
Leading currency trader Alpesh Patel said sterling had been falling since the start of July, but the recent spike in support for independence had “accelerated the fall”. He said traders were “shorting” sterling – expecting the price to fall further against the dollar.
“At the moment the bets are all for falls,” he said. “It could turn around at any moment, but we don’t see any reason why it should unless we get some new news through.”
But he believed Scotland and the rest of the UK could “make independence work”. He said: “The reason we’re shorting sterling at the moment is not because economically we think there would be catastrophe if there was independence. The reason is, whenever there’s uncertainty, we’re just looking at what everyone else is looking to do.”
The Scottish Tory leader claimed a No vote was necessary to ensure Scotland continued to grow and that independence would create obstacles for Scottish businesses.
“Let’s not turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor overnight,” Ms Davidson said, on a visit to the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston. “Being part of the UK means no cross-border red tape or regulation for Scottish producers.
“Sales to the other home nations make up a huge chunk of the balance sheet for Scottish firms. I don’t want [them] having to fill out endless forms – like EU VAT requirements – to sell down south, because we are suddenly separate countries.”
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Today the economic costs of separation became real. I have real concerns that the reaction of the markets to one poll suggests the problems we would see if we actually left the UK.”
He added: “The Nationalists are now under real pressure to be honest about the consequences of separation for families in Scotland. The reaction of the markets makes clear that they cannot continue with their bluff and bluster. It’s too damaging to Scotland’s future prospects.
A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “Scotland is in the top 20 of the world’s wealthiest countries. We are rich in terms of the skills of our people, entrepreneurship, innovation, life sciences and technology, and we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources.”