EDINBURGH: Prime Minister David Cameron urged Scots not to rip apart a “family of nations” as he battled to reverse a late surge in support for Scottish independence one week from a historic referendum.
Scotland votes on whether to end the 300-year-old union on September 18, and recent polls suggest the outcome is on a knife-edge.
In what Scottish National Party (SNP) First Minister Alex Salmond described as a sign of “panicking”, Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband skipped their weekly parliamentary debate in London to hit the campaign trail north of the border.
“I would be heartbroken if this family of nations that we’ve put together and that we’ve done such amazing things together… was torn apart,” Cameron told an event in Edinburgh.
Newspaper The Scotsman came out against independence in an editorial that covered the front page of its Thursday edition, headlined “Scotland’s decision”.
“With the choices before us, the conclusion is that we are better together, that Scotland’s best interests lie not in creating division but in continuing in the Union and using its strengths to help us continue in our success,” the newspaper wrote.
“That is not a view taken because of fear, or lack of confidence, or lack of patriotism.”
The Scotsman is the latest major Scottish newspaper to back the union after the Daily Record, with the second highest circulation in Scotland, endorsed the Better Together campaign a week ago.
The Sunday Herald is the only Scottish newspaper to support independence, but there was growing press speculation this week that the Scottish Sun, which has the highest circulation in Scotland, could declare its support for independence after critical coverage of the “No” campaign.
Barely a month ago, there seemed little likelihood of victory for the “Yes” camp, but two polls since the weekend put it either ahead or in a dead heat with the “No” camp among voters who had made up their minds.
Confusing the picture, a new poll out Wednesday gave the “No” camp a six point lead, unchanged from two months previously.
The Survation/Daily Record poll put “No” on 53 percent and “Yes” on 47 percent, excluding undecideds.
After a shock poll put the “Yes” camp ahead on Sunday, the three biggest parties at Westminster on Tuesday backed a timetable unveiled by former prime minister Gordon Brown for handing more powers to the devolved Scottish government if it stayed in Britain.
The timetable would start the day after a “No” vote in the referendum, which takes place on September 18.
Cameron’s job could be at risk if there is a “Yes” vote even though his campaign appearances have been limited because his Conservative party is deeply unpopular in Scotland.
Acknowledging this, he told voters the referendum was not about giving the “effing Tories… a kick,” but about Scotland’s future.
Salmond accused Cameron of making a “last gasp, last ditch” attempt to save the union by coming to the Scottish capital.
“If the people of Scotland decide to vote for independence, then I would say David Cameron is in a pretty untenable position,” he added.
“Their visit will backfire,” added Michael Granados, an SNP campaigner attending a rally with Salmond in Edinburgh.
“Every time Westminster gets involved in this campaign, the vote swings more and more to the ‘Yes’ side.”
The rapidly changing political landscape has spooked investors, and the pound on Wednesday was still struggling after hitting a 10-month low against the dollar on Monday.
Uncertainty remains over issues including what currency an independent Scotland would use and its place in the European Union.
Reflecting this, Edinburgh-registered bank Lloyds said it could relocate its legal seat to England in the event of a “Yes” vote, and a Treasury source said Royal Bank of Scotland was making similar plans.
Pensions giant Standard Life, one of Scotland’s biggest firms, has said it was making contingency plans to move some transactions south in the event of a “Yes” vote.
The extent to which income from North Sea oil and gas reserves could support an independent Scotland has been a key topic in the referendum debate and energy giant BP said Wednesday the industry was “best served” by keeping the UK intact.
Leading business newspaper the Financial Times came out against independence in an editorial on Wednesday.
“The union is something precious, not a bauble to be cast aside,” it said. “In a week’s time, the Scots can vote with a sense of ambition to build on those successes.”