LONDON: Supporters of the United Kingdom fought back to stop Scotland voting for independence in next week’s referendum after polls showed a surge in support for the split on Tuesday.
The pound slumped to a 10-month low on fears of a break-up of the 300-year-old union following a shock weekend poll that put the “Yes” campaign two points ahead.
The collapse of the pro-union side’s long-held lead was confirmed on Tuesday when a second poll but the two camps neck and neck.
Senior politicians from the opposition Labour party hit the campaign trail amid signs that growing support among their voters for independence is driving the narrowing of the polls.
In a speech urging Scots to vote to stay in the union, former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown set out a timetable for granting the Scottish parliament more powers if independence is rejected.
“A ‘No’ vote on September 18 will not be an end point, but the starting gun for action on September 19, when straight away we will kick off a plan to deliver the enhanced devolution that we want,” Brown said.
Brown said draft laws to grant further powers over taxation and spending, which are broadly backed by the three main parties in Westminster, would be ready by January.
But the pro-independence campaign said the promises could not be guaranteed by the opposition party and contained nothing new.
First Minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the pro-independence Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), warned of “panic” in the unionist camp.
His deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, said on Monday that the pro-independence campaign was still “the underdog in the referendum, but there’s no doubt the momentum is towards ‘Yes’.”
The Tuesday poll by TNS Scotland showed the “Yes” side on 38 percent and the “No” side on 39 percent — a stark change from the research agency’s August poll that gave the pro-union side a 13-point lead.
“This poll reveals a remarkable shift in voting intentions,” said TNS Scotland head Tom Costley.
“It is too close to call and both sides will now be energised to make the most of the last few days of the campaign and try and persuade the undecided voters of the merits of their respective campaigns.”
The polls have shaken up a campaign that until just a few weeks ago looked almost certain to end in defeat for the independence campaign.
The weekend poll by YouGov in The Sunday Times newspaper gave the “Yes” camp 51 percent support compared to the “No” camp’s 49 percent, excluding undecided voters.
The two-point gap is still within the margin of error but Peter Kellner, the president of the YouGov pollsters which carried out the survey, said it was a major development.
“The ‘Yes’ campaign has not just invaded ‘No’ territory; it has launched a blitzkrieg,” he wrote in a blog posting.
The latest figures sent the pound tumbling over continued uncertainty about the effect that independence would have on the British economy.
The SNP say Scotland would keep the pound, but the unionist parties in London say this will not be possible.
Britain’s currency slid to a 10-month low point of $1.6128 — before rebounding slightly to $1.6147 — and dropped to 80.24 pence against the euro, the lowest for three weeks.
The FTSE 100 also came under pressure as companies with links to Scotland saw their shares slide, according to Michael Hewson, chief analyst at CMC Markets UK.
Among the biggest fallers were Royal Bank of Scotland, which was down 2.45 percent to 338.5 pence.
The developments have increased pressure on British Prime Minister David Cameron and media reports suggest members of his Conservative party might try to use a “Yes” vote to challenge his leadership.
Cameron insists he has no intention of resigning and was in bullish mood on Monday, telling the House of Commons that “the patriotic choice would be for a proud Scotland but a United Kingdom”.
The premier spent the weekend with Queen Elizabeth II at her Scottish summer retreat in Balmoral, where the referendum is likely to have been a topic of discussion.
Officially the monarch has remained neutral, although some newspapers quoted royal sources as saying she is “horrified” at the prospect of a break-up of the UK.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, warned in a newspaper article on Monday that Scottish independence would be “an utter catastrophe for this country”.