This Week in Scotland: Don’t panic!


To close to call
On Sunday the unionists were rocked by a Sunday Times/YouGov poll which indicated a narrow lead for Yes with a headline figure of 49/51 for independence when undecideds were removed. This is the first poll to show a lead for Yes and it will be interesting to see if this is a one off. However, unionist nerves were somewhat calmed with the publication of a further YouGov poll last night, which recorded support for No at 50% (+5) and support for independence at 45% (-2). Undecideds were recorded at 6% (-2). This shift in support has come since Gordon Brown’s commenced Better Together’s fight back earlier in the week and suggests those Labour voters who were shifting towards Yes are beginning to move back, albeit slowly.

This pattern of a narrow No lead has also been replicated in TNS and Survation’s latest offerings. TNS, which uses face-to-face interviews, indicated a 1% lead while Survation gave a 6% lead to the No campaign. Even though these polls continue to show a lead for No, they also indicate a clear narrowing that has caused the markets and some Westminster politicians and commentators to panic.

The next poll is expected tonight from ICM on behalf of the Guardian.

Three leaders panic well
With last weekend’s YouGov poll indicating for the first time a narrow lead for independence, the leaders of the main UK political parties ventured north to campaign for the Union.

Arriving on the same day, but notably separate, Messers Cameron, Miliband and Clegg delivered impassioned speeches aimed at different audiences. An emotional Cameron said he would be “heartbroken” if Scots voted for independence before emphasising the finality of the vote by saying that next Thursday is not about giving the “effing Tories” a kick or about the next five years, but the next century.

Miliband focused on the head, heart and soul case for the Union in an equally emotional and powerful speech. He reiterated Gordon Brown’s social justice messaging and emphasised that a UK Labour government would remove David Cameron’s government without ripping the fabric of the UK apart.

Meanwhile Clegg focused on a vote for No not being a vote for the status quo. He reiterated that further devolution was coming now, through the Scotland Act 2012, and more would follow quickly in the event of a No.

We’re off
RBS and Lloyd’s have confirmed that they have contingency plans to move their headquarters to London in the event of a Yes vote. Likewise, Standard Life has confirmed that it would move some of its operations south of the border including “pensions, investments and other long-terms savings held by UK customers.” Again this is nothing new given that Standard Life had previously announced that it was looking into establishing English companies as a contingency in the event of a Yes. However, the confirmation that jobs are very much at risk has been jumped upon by the Better Together campaign as ‘further evidence’ to the risks presented by independence.

With economists pointing to a degree of capital flight from Scotland, due to the uncertainty created by the vote, the Yes Scotland campaign has been at pains to play down the significance of these announcements. To this end the Yes camp have highlighted comments made by Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management who said that “I think an independent Scotland would be a big success.”

Incompatible with sovereignty
Speaking at a TUC conference this week, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has reiterated his claim that a currency union is “incompatible with sovereignty.” This reflects his comments earlier this year that for a currency union to work an independent Scotland would have to cede considerable power to a ‘foreign country’ (i.e. rUK).

Later, giving evidence to the House of Commons Treasury Committee, Carney offered his opinion on the idea of Scotland keeping a currency pegged to Sterling, in the absence of an agreed monetary union given that the main UK parties continue to rule out a formal currency union. He claimed that an independent Scotland would require to raise billions of pounds to maintain financial stability in order to give lenders to Scottish banks the confidence that they would be bailed out in a crisis as the £15bn of reserves an independent Scotland would likely inherit post-independence would be well below those required – he suggested something closer to £100bn. He also agreed with the committee chairman that these extra revenues would likely result in increased taxes or a reduction in spending costs.

Big Oil: Better Together
BP and Shell have thrown their considerable weight behind the recent projections offered by Sir Ian Wood that estimated that there were significantly less North Sea oil and gas available than the figures promoted by the Scottish Government.

Shell commented that “as existing infrastructure gets older + output falls, costs will go up + tax receipts will come down” while BP said that the economic justification for independence had overestimated the likely tax revenues. BP’s CEO went further and stated that “the future prospects for the North sea are best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the UK.”

Brown to the rescue……
With a Sunday Times/YouGov polling giving Yes a lead for the first time, Gordon Brown has emerged to lead the pro-union fight back. His message is simple. A vote for No is not unpatriotic nor is it a vote for the status quo.

To prove this point he has published a timetable for delivering further powers to Scotland if voters reject independence. Although there are no powers outlined, the timetable, which has been endorsed by the main UK parties, provides pro-unionist canvassers a hook to tempt the Labour heartlands to give the union another look.

Announcing his timetable, Brown also confirmed that he would be touring the Labour heartlands. The move is a direct attempt to stem the tide of Labour voters who appear to be switching from No to Yes.

Salmond devolution section
Speaking at a press conference for the international media to mark the anniversary of devolution, Alex Salmond claimed that Scotland is on the “cusp of making history” by voting for independence. He argued that the positive case for independence is trumping the negativity of the Better Together camp and that Scotland should take this “opportunity of a lifetime.”

However, in what was at times an aggressive performance, the First Minister accused the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson of “heckling” before demanding that the Treasury conduct an inquiry into who briefed the BBC about the RBS announcement that broke last night.

Figures published today by the Electoral Commission indicate that more than 4.2 million people – 97% of the eligible Scottish population – have registered to vote and a record 789,024 postal votes have been issued ahead of next Thursday.

This has seen an average increase in voter registration across Scotland’s 32 local authority areas of 4% since March, with Dundee (7.69%) , Dumfries & Galloway (6.76%) and Inverclyde (6.22%) seeing the largest increases.

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