As the Scottish independence referendum draws nearer, Cicero is pleased to share our second weekly Scottish digest. This edition outlines the latest polling average, looks at the recent developments on the possible televised debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling and provides a round-up of the other top stories and opinion pieces from the Scottish and wider media this week.

This week’s latest polls 

Scotland poll 1Unusually, there have been no new opinion polls on the referendum published this week. However the most recent ‘Poll of Polls’, calculated by Professor John Curtice and published on the

What Scotland Thinks website, gives No a 56-44 lead, after Don’t Knows are stripped out.

After a period of gradual narrowing of the No lead from the turn of the year, the Poll of Polls has settled recently at around this mark. While the Yes campaign will be encouraged by the progress they have made over a period of months, the relative stability of the polls of late will ease the nerves of the Better Together camp.

 Salmond vs Darling: Will they, won’t they?

Confusion reigned this week as it first appeared that agreement had finally been reached for a televised debate between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling, only for the agreement to unravel in a dispute over dates.

Over the weekend the First Minister’s camp indicated that, while they would continue to press for a debate with David Cameron before the Commonwealth Games, if that was not agreed to they would debate Darling instead.

This appeared to clear the way for a clash on Scottish Television (STV) on 16 July but by midweek that date was off the table, with Better Together saying STV had “rolled over” and agreed to the First Minister’s request for a later date. Agreement has seemingly now been reached for an STV debate on August 5, possibly followed by a BBC debate a week later. However, at time of writing, this remains very much a moving feast.

Start-up costs of an independent Scotland disputed

The recent debate over the likely costs of establishing a new independent Scottish state continued this week as Professor Patrick Dunleavy of London School of Economics (LSE) published new analysis forecasting that an initial £200m would be required to replicate core Westminster functions but warning that hundreds of millions of pounds more would be needed to build new government IT systems.

Dunleavy also suggested that the Scottish Government’s desired independence date in 2016 was “demanding but just achievable”.

A spokesman for the First Minister said Prof Dunleavy’s analysis had blown the Treasury’s £2.7bn estimate “out of the water” and “totally vindicated” the Scottish Government’s position. However Better Together welcomed the report and said it demonstrated that hundreds of millions would be “wasted” recreating existing structures.

In a subsequent blog, Prof Dunleavy said Scots could be “relatively sure” that start-up costs would be between £600m and £1.5bn over a decade.

RBS Chairman maintains neutrality

Sir Philip Hampton, the Chairman of RBS, has said the bank is “not taking one side or the other” in the referendum campaign and would “continue to maintain a neutral position”.

Addressing the RBS annual meeting in Edinburgh, Sir Philip said that RBS maintains a continuous dialogue with the Bank of England, UKFI and the UK and Scottish governments on these issues. He indicated that nothing would change the day after a Yes vote as there would be an 18 month window of negotiation.

The RBS annual report stated: “The uncertainties resulting from an affirmative vote in favour of independence would be likely to significantly impact the group’s credit ratings and could also impact the fiscal, monetary, legal and regulatory landscape to which the Group is subject.”

Lawyers for Yes group established

Over one hundred Scottish lawyers and legal academics have signed up to a new Lawyers for Yes group established this week. In its Yes Declaration, the group states that independence would give Scotland an “enviable opportunity to draft a constitution which articulates the shared aspirations and values of the people who live in Scotland and protects fundamental rights, the separation of powers and the rule of law”.

Ed Miliband seeks to shore up Labour support for the Union

In a speech in Edinburgh on Friday, Ed Miliband urged Scots to back a No vote, safe in the knowledge that it is not a vote for no change. He said he wants Scots to be part of his “mission to change Britain” through a more equal economy and a fairer society. He said the Scottish Government’s priority after independence is a three per cent cut in corporation tax, whereas his priority for a future Labour government is to strengthen the minimum wage, tackle zero-hours contracts and restore the 50p top rate of tax.

Miliband’s speech was a clear pitch to left-leaning voters considering voting Yes in the hope of achieving greater social justice. However the SNP responded that the only way for Scotland to “ensure that the Tories never again get to govern Scotland when their support here is rock-bottom is to vote Yes for independence.”

Top Comment Pieces

Peter Jones in The Scotsman: Counting the cost of independence
A Yes vote could make Scotland, at best, a very uncertain place for established major employers

Lesley Riddoch in The Scotsman: BBC caught in political crossfire
Once again BBC management have been found wanting when it comes to managing news balance

Colette Douglas Home in The Herald: Alistair would be No camp’s darling in the big TV debate
There will be a number of different opinions [of Alistair Darling], especially since he’s been leading the Better Together campaign. But can we agree on a couple of characteristics? First, he isn’t flashy. Secondly, like him or not, he says it as he sees it.

Colin Fox in Scotland on Sunday: The Queen in an independent Scotland
Long live the Queen – but not in an independent Scotland

Simon Kelner in The Independent: The Scottish independence debate highlights an identity crisis
This can be characterised by the simple question: where do I belong?