EDINBURGH (AFP) – The leaders of Britain’s three main parties on Tuesday issued a joint pledge to give the Scottish parliament more powers if voters reject independence, in a final drive to stop the United Kingdom from splitting.
The promise was published on the front page of leading Scottish newspaper the Daily Record and was printed to look like a yellowed scroll with the signatures and faces of the three party leaders.
Published under the headline “The Vow”, the promise by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband, and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg re-iterates previous commitments for more decentralisation.
“We agreed that: The Scottish Parliament is permanent and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered,” the text read.
“People want to see change. A ‘No’ vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation.”
British Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (L) and Former Liberal Democrat party leader Charles Kennedy (2L) speak to the media at a “Better Together” campaign poster launch in Glasgow, Scotland on September 16 – AFP
Pro-independence Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond immediately hit back, calling it a “last minute desperate offer of nothing”.
He said on BBC Radio Scotland that it was “not going to dissuade people in Scotland from the huge opportunity of taking Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands this coming Thursday”.
Polls have showed a late surge in support for independence, putting the outcome on a knife edge, after the “No” being ahead for many months.
“It’s clear that project panic is willing to say anything in the last few days of the campaign to try to halt the ‘Yes’ momentum,” a spokesman for the pro-independence campaign said.
“The reality is that the only way to guarantee Scotland gets all the powers we need… is with a ‘Yes’ vote on Thursday.”
In Edinburgh, 50-year-old Heather Wright said she was confident that Scots would vote for independence – although she acknowledged there were still many undecideds and it would be “very close”.
“The future of Scotland will be hopefully in our hands. It’s now or never,” she said. Wright said she was supporting independence because she wanted “the voice of Scotland to be heard”.
“For many years it was not the case,” she added.
The pledge was published after a trip to Scotland by Cameron on Monday to urge Scots to vote against independence or face dire consequences, in what could be his last visit before the vote.
“Head, heart and soul, we want you to stay,” Cameron said to applause from a mostly elderly audience of hundreds of people at the event in Aberdeen, a hub for Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry.
“Independence would not be a trial separation, it would be a painful divorce,” he said, warning of a risk to pensions and the difficulties of a physical border between England and Scotland.
“There is no going back from this,” he said.
The speech was the most forceful yet from Cameron and there were frequent references to the United Kingdom as “our home”.
Many commentators said the “No” campaign should have made the emotional argument for staying together earlier in the campaign.
Wright said, “It is too little for me. And too late”.
David, a 63-year-old retired Canadian visiting friends in Edinburgh, said he was also unimpressed and found it “patronising”.
“Many people won’t sleep on Thursday night,” he said, adding that whatever the result on Friday: “It will be a new world.”
Three of the latest polls published over the weekend put the pro-union campaign ahead by varying margins: 47 per cent for “No” to 40.8 per cent for “Yes” in a poll by Survation; 47.7 to 42.3 per cent in an Opinium survey; and 47.1 to 46.1 per cent in a Panelbase poll.
An ICM online poll for The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, however, gave the “Yes” camp 49 per cent, ahead of the pro-UK camp at 42 per cent with 9.0 per cent undecided, although pollsters warned the sample size could be too small to be representative.