This week’s latest polls

Two polls were published this week, painting a mixed picture of how close the race is.

While TNS BMRB show a No lead of 14 points, rising to 18 when Don’t Knows are stripped out, Survation place No only 5 points ahead and 6 when Don’t Knows are excluded.

Indyref poll 1
Indyref poll 2The common theme from both pollsters is a declining number of Don’t Knows since their previous polls, suggesting voters may be beginning to come off the fence. Somewhat worryingly for the Yes camp, who are relying on picking up a majority of undecided voters, there is no obvious indication of this happening. TNS registered a 4 point increase for No, versus just a 2 point increase for Yes, while Survation had both camps gaining 2 points.

Salmond and Darling reach agreement on STV debate

After much toing and froing, agreement has been reached for a debate between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling on Scottish Television (STV) on Tuesday 5 August. The two hour debate will be broadcast live in Scotland and streamed online in the rest of the UK. It will be moderated by STV’s veteran political editor, Bernard Ponsonby, in front of a studio audience of 350 voters from across Scotland.

Cicero Group will be showing a live screening of the debate at our London offices; please email

register@cicero-group.com if you are interested in attending.

Electoral Commission data shows Better Together ahead in donations battle

Data published for the period December 2013 to June 2014 has revealed the Better Together campaign has opened up a significant lead over Yes Scotland in donations received. Better Together took in £2.4m worth of donations over £7,500, whereas the official Yes campaign received £1.1m.

As well as a high-profile £1m donation by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, Better Together has received sizable donations from a number of Scottish landowners, the whisky company William Grant & Sons, crime writer CJ Sansom and the banker Bruno Schroder. The pro-UK campaign also revealed that it has received a further £1.6m in donations below the £7,500 threshold for declaration.

Yes Scotland’s donations have been dominated by the £1m given by Euromillions winners Colin and Chris Weir. It is also believed that the campaign has received around £200,000 in smaller donations since May.

Juncker sets out stall on Scots’ EU membership

Incoming EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he will “respect” Scotland’s decision in the independence referendum in September and that he is “in favour of democratic expressions”.

However he seemed to indicate that continued EU membership would not be automatic as “one does not become a member of the EU simply by writing a letter”. He also appeared to endorse the views of his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, on the potential difficulties of continued membership.

Nevertheless, the SNP issued a statement that Juncker is someone they can “do business with”. They said he is “playing it straight” and showing “refreshing common sense”.

Meanwhile, the SNP’s position on continued EU membership received a welcome boost from Oxford Professor of European law Siobhain Douglas-Scott. Douglas-Scott said that an independent Scotland’s transition to EU membership should be “relatively smooth” and would not require a full Accession Treaty. She described it as a form of “internal enlargement” for the EU.

Salmond accused of discouraging SFE report on independence

The Telegraph reports this week that the First Minister allegedly personally called the Chairman of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), Sir Ewan Brwon, to discourage the trade body from publishing a planned report on the implications of independence for Scotland’s financial sector.

The newspaper quotes a source at SFE describing the conversations as “forceful” and said that the Scottish Government had been “trying to discourage us from saying anything”. However a spokesperson for Mr Salmond said the First Minister was seeking to ensure that any publication was “properly balanced” to reflect the views of SFE’s membership.

The issue of business groups being pressurised in the referendum campaign was placed in the spotlight this week by a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary. The programme spoke to a number of organisations including the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation who claimed SNP figures had sought to discourage them from expressing views in the campaign. The former head of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) suggested the Scottish Government had attempted to “neuter” business interventions, but his successor said the SWA has “absolutely not” been pressed into silence.

UBS economists predict money will flow out of Scotland in event of a Yes vote

Economists at Swiss bank UBS have predicted that savers are likely to move their deposits south in the event of a Yes vote in September. They say that, unless a full monetary union is agreed, Scotland is likely to be perceived as the “weaker part” of the sterling area leading to “savings shifting rapidly”.

They said this may happen even before a Yes vote or before negotiations have concluded on currency arrangements, as savers may seek to pre-empt the decision. UBS cite the example of the Quebecois referendum in 1995 where deposits shifted out of Quebec even though there was ultimately a no vote.

The UBS report also added that it “does not seem feasible” for RBS and Lloyds Banking Group to remain domiciled in Scotland after a Yes vote.

UK parties reportedly discussing further powers for Scotland

A senior Lib Dem Coalition source has reportedly told The Scotsman that the three main UK parties have already begun informal talks on further powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote. The source said there is a “growing consensus” among the parties that the first Queen’s Speech of the next Parliament will include a bill for further devolution to Scotland. Labour has already confirmed that this would be the case if they are in government.

OBR cuts North Sea oil revenues forecast

In its annual fiscal stability report, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has cut its long-term forecasts for North Sea oil revenues by a quarter. They say this is largely explained by lower production in the latest medium-term forecast and say that oil and gas receipts are “on a declining trend”. They note also that oil and gas receipts are “the most volatile revenue streams in the UK public finances”.

The First Minister described the report as “stuff and nonsense”. He said the OBR’s forecasts for the amount of oil and gas remaining are well below other estimates, such as those made by Oil and Gas UK and in the Wood review. The OBR forecast around 10bn barrels remaining, in contrast to more optimistic estimates of up to 24bn barrels.

Comment

The Economist leader: Don’t leave us this way

Why we hope the people of Scotland will vote to stay in the Union

Ian Bell in The Herald: Darling has a short memory when it comes to true crises

“Darling should be cautious about employing one of Labour’s larger failures for the purposes of analogy”

David Frost in The Scotsman: Scotland famous for robust debate

Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association on the referendum debate

Tim Montgomerie in The Times: UK minus Scotland: Not the disaster you think

Ideally I’d like the union to remain, but a Yes vote would bring better government on both sides of the border

Martin Kettle in The Guardian: Romanticising the Scots does Scotland no favours

The argument that Scotland’s problems are exceptional, and solvable only by independence, is wrong on both counts

Iain Macwhirter in The Herald: Thinking the unthinkable when No really means No

There is a mood of subdued triumphalism in the Unionist campaign