No campaign have fight on their hands after shock poll

Better Together leader Alistair Darling Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Ten days to save the Union.

Not a slogan we’ve heard so far from the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence.

But perhaps only a matter of time.

For today’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has had an incendiary effect on the independence referendum debate.

Just in case you have not heard (where have you been?) it suggests 51% support for Scotland leaving the UK, 49 % in favour of remaining. The figures excludes people who would not vote or are undecided.

If you include that group it suggests independence was backed by 47% compared to 45% backed the Union.

It’s a very good result for Alex Salmond and the wider YesScotland campaign to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

Frankly, it’s a figure that most Unionist politicians, in Scotland and Westminster, never thought they would see.

Wise heads in the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties have always thought the referendum outcome might be close, or closer than some of their more complacent colleagues thought.

But very few of them thought the SNP would ever creep ahead even in one poll, so sure were they that what they call the “silent majority” of Scots were in favour of remaining in the UK.

It is worth noting this is only one poll, and there is another one by Panelbase out today which shows the ‘No’ side with a 4% lead.

But that has not stopped the ‘Yes’ campaign claiming they now have the big momentum - the ‘Big Mo’ beloved of American politicians - to take them towards what would be a sensational victory and put an end to a union more than three centuries old.

A Yes vote would be a sensational victory for the SNP. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

What are the Unionist parties going to do? Well, not rest on their laurels that is for sure. This poll, if it does anything, will convince even the most confident Unionists they have a fight on their hands.

But beyond that it seems that the three main UK parties are preparing to make some further joint pledge on more powers for the Scottish parliament within the next few days,

What exactly that will be remains unclear today.

Chancellor George Osborne, asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show about whether there was agreement on more powers, said “we have been in discussion with the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats”.

Mr Osborne said that those plans would be set out “in the next few days” and would include great financial autonomy for Holyrood.

George Osborne gives a speech in front of Edinburgh Castle. Credit: Scott Heppell/PA Archive

But interviewed by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed that while Labour backs devolving more powers “there has to be a balance”.

In terms of tax, the positions as things stand are the Tories will devolve all income tax, but Labour is only committed to some extra income tax powers going to Holyrood - not all. It put the limit at 15p in the pound.

If that is about to change it will be a big further move by Labour.

But from what Mr Brown was saying his reservations - shared by many Labour MPs at Westminster - remain.

Gordon Brown said “there has to be a balance” on more devolved powers. Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

So it is difficult to see Labour shifting further on this, beyond some kind of joint statement of principle that all three agree on further powers but disagree on the detail.

It is, of course, possible the impact of this poll will move Labour further.

The Liberal Democrats, by the way, are the more radical of all and would devolve a wider range of taxes including all income tax, inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

Where does that leave us?

Well, the pro-UK side will continue to criticise the SNP’s case for independence, saying it does not add up economically.

George Osborne was again very clear today that a separate Scotland - and he seemed to be using the ‘separate and separatist’ terms the SNP reject as pejorative a lot - would not be able to use the pound Sterling in a currency union.

Mr Osborne put it thus: “No ifs, no buts, we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the rest of the UK.”

The Chancellor said an independent Scotland would not share the pound. Credit: Edward Smith/EMPICS Entertainment

The SNP will continue to counter this by saying it is common sense to share the pound after independence.

More broadly the Nationalists are, they say, not complacent. They will continue to put the positive case for independence.

But they will also continue to make their highly contentious claim that only independence can save the NHS as a public service.

The SNP themes that an independent Scotland will always get the government it votes for, that it can be a prosperous country and remain on good terms with its neighbours are resonating.

If this poll is right the Unionist message that the SNP’s sums do not add up, that independence would be an economic catastrophe, and that Scotland with a parliament inside the UK gets the “best of both worlds” are not resonating as strongly as the pro-Union side hoped.

There might though be one impact of this poll that helps the Unionist side. By showing that Scots just might vote for independence, it might focus the minds of those who are swithering or have not made up their minds.

They may not put it like this, but the pro-UK side will be hoping voters will think of this moment as looking over the precipice, and draw back.

Ten days to save the Union. Or ten days until Scotland decides to go her own way.

The stakes could not be higher.