Polls this week
At times during this referendum campaign there has been a frustrating lack of regular opinion polls. That was certainly not the case this week as a barrage of polls were published, all showing a referendum campaign going down to the wire.
Last weekend YouGov turned the political world upside down with the first independently-commissioned opinion poll to put Yes in the lead – by a margin of 51-49 after undecided voters were stripped out.
Many had predicted that Panelbase, which has been showing a much closer race all along, would be the first to put Yes in front, howevertheir weekend poll continued to give No a narrow lead – by 52-48.
Further evidence that the campaign is on a knife-edge came with TNS-BMRB’s poll on Monday. TNS, like YouGov, had traditionally shown strong No leads throughout the campaign, but this week found an almost exact dead heat after Don’t Knows were excluded. This poll found an unusually high number – 23 per cent – still undecided, most likely owing to their face-to-face rather than online methodology.
Wednesday’s Survation poll provided a little more relief for the No campaign, showing a broadly unchanged picture since their previous poll, with No ahead 53-47.
Returning full circle back to YouGov, their poll released on Thursday night suggests that the momentum behind the Yes campaign may have stalled slightly, placing No back in front 52-48 – a three point swing from Yes to No.
However the overwhelming message from all of this week’s polls is that with only six days to go, the referendum really is too close to call.
UK parties commit to timetable for further devolution
In his most significant intervention in the campaign to date, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week outlined a new timetable for a swift transfer of more powers to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote. His proposals were subsequently endorsed by the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem leaders at both Holyrood and Westminster, creating the somewhat unusualsituation of the former Prime Minister announcing policy approved by his successor.
Under Brown’s timeline, a ‘Command Paper’ would be published by the end of October setting out all the options for further devolution, aWhite Paper would be followed by the end of November following consultationwith key stakeholders in Scotland and a draft Scotland Bill would be published by the end of January 2015. The three parties have each published their ownproposals for further devolution, though there is significant overlap in areas such as increased powers over income tax, welfare and borrowing. It is therefore believed that agreement can be reached on a common package.
Brown’s visibility in the campaign has increasedsignificantly in the past week as the No camp believes he still has a strong appeal to traditional Labour voters in the central belt. He featured prominently in a Better Together referendum broadcast on Tuesday evening and has grasped the initiative on further devolution. Outlining his plans at a miners’ welfare club on Monday Brown said: “the choice is now between irreversible separation, or voting for a stronger Scottish parliament. We are talking about a big change in the constitution. It’s like home rule in the UK.”
Financial services firms set out contingency plans for Yes vote
Some of Scotland’s largest financial services firms this week outlined the steps they are likely to take in the event of a Yes vote. Pensions giant Standard Life confirmed that they have registered companies in England and could transfer some operations south of the border in the event of a Yes vote to ensure continuity for customers in areas such as currency and compensation arrangements.
RBS has said that it would re-domicile the bank’s holding company and its primary rated operating entity in the event of a Yes vote, while Lloyds said it was setting up “new principle legal entities in England”.
However in a press conference on Thursday the First Minister Alex Salmond said that the moves amounted to little more than moving “brass plaques” and pointed out that Lloyds already has its main headquarters in London. He also accused the Treasury of leaking market sensitive information about RBS’s plans, as well as quoting from an internal letter from RBS CEO Ross McEwan in which he described the move as a technical procedure which would not affect operations or jobs. The Treasury dismissed Mr Salmond’s claims of a leak.
The Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, Martin Gilbert, made clear this week that his firm has always been, and will remain, neutral on the question of independence. He said that investors are used to uncertainty and pointed out that whatever changes occur will be “gradual, measured and subject to extensive negotiation”.
Amongst other major business interventions in the debate this week, the bosses of Asda and John Lewis suggested that prices may be higher in an independent Scotland due to increased costs of doing business there, while BP boss Bob Dudley said that future prospects for the North Sea are “best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the United Kingdom”.
UK leaders travel north
David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg travelled to Scotland to campaign for a No vote on Wednesday after deciding to stay away from Prime Minister’s Questions.
In Edinburgh the Prime Minister told an audience at Scottish Widows that he would be “heartbroken” to see the breakup of the UK and urged Scots not to vote Yes just to “give the effing Tories a kick”.
Ed Miliband addressed an audience of Labour party supporters in Cumbernauld where he said he wanted to make the case for a No vote from the “head, heart and soul”. He urged Scots to stick with the UK to “change Britain together” under a Labour government. Miliband was joined the following day by a host of Labour MPs who travelled up from Westminster to join him on the campaign trail.
Nick Clegg campaigned in the Borders region with Lib Dem colleagues Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael. He called on the UK “family of nations” to keep doing things well together at the same times as entering “an exciting new chapter of devolving new powers to Scotland”.
Salmond marks devolution anniversary with international press conference
Alex Salmond marked the anniversary of the 1997 referendum which saw overwhelming backing for the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament with a press conference for international media. Salmond described Scotland as “on the cusp of making history” and the referendum as a “process of national empowerment”.
The First Minister was speaking alongside Canon KenyonWright who chaired the Scottish Constitutional Convention which laid the groundwork for devolution but is now backing full independence. Canon Wright said Scotland “now needs something devolution can never give – the secure power to make her own decisions; to follow her own vision of a just fair society, to take her positive place among the nations of Europe and the world, to be free from the constant interference from Westminster.”
Salmond was also boosted this week by the remarks of the former President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, who suggested that Scotland’s membership of the EU would be secured inside 18 months. He said it was unclear what the common European interest would be in expelling Scotland and dismissed suggestions that it would have to “go to the back of the queue”. Cox, President of the Parliament from 2002 to 2004, said the EU “has always respected the expressed democratic will of the peoples involved”.
Voter registrations suggest record turnout
The Electoral Commission has announced that almost 4.3 million people – around 97 per cent of the eligible population – are registered to vote in the referendum, making it the largest ever electorate in Scotland. This included nearly 800,000 people who applied for a postal vote, of whom it is believedover half a million have already voted. With the record number of voter registrations, a turnout of over 80% is widely expected and both sides are aware of the importance of winning over those who do not normally vote.
Carney commentsensure currency debate rumbles on
Comments from the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney this week that currency unions are “incompatible with sovereignty” ensured that the ongoing debate over the future of Scotland’s currency continued. Addressing the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference, Carney said that a successful currency union required free movement of capital, a banking union and a shared fiscal framework.
Reacting to Carney’s comments, Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said that Carney has made it clear that the Bank of England will implement whatever arrangement is decided and added that the Scottish Government’s Fiscal Commission Working Group has considered all of the issues raised by Carney. He went on: “The political position of the three Westminster parties – which Governor Carney noted today – will of course change after a Yes vote. And as the momentum builds behind the Yes campaign, their currency bluff has well and truly been called.”
The Scotsman backs the union as they declare their referendum position
The FT backs a No vote and describes the case for union as “overwhelming”
The Herald columnist dismisses the pro-UK parties’ timetable for more devolution
Ahead of a visit to Scotland, the UKIP leader says he has been impressed with the Yes campaign
Nobel laureate Krugman pours scorn on SNP currency plans
Independence would carry the potential to galvanise progressive movements across the rest of the UK