The campaign against Scottish independence has suffered a narrowing of its opinion poll lead despite its leader’s widely hailed victory over Nationalist first minister Alex Salmond in a high-profile debate earlier this month.
A new survey on Monday followed two on Sunday that found rising support for a Yes vote in next month’s referendum amid increasingly intense debate across Scotland over whether to continue the 307-year-old political union with England.
Mr Salmond will on Monday mark the start of the last month of campaigning with a speech in Arbroath on the opportunities of independence.
The speech will highlight issues of healthcare and social justice, but is intended to resonate with the 14th century Declaration of Arbroath in which the kingdom of Scotland asserted its independence after decades of invasions from England.
The independence campaign still trails in all significant polls, but an ICM survey for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper found that support for a No vote had fallen two points since last month to 55 per cent when undecideds were excluded, while Yes backers had increased two points to 45 per cent.
A survey by Panelbase, conducted for the Yes Scotland campaign but using the same methodology that the pollster uses for media clients, put the No lead at just 52 per cent to 48 per cent for Yes, a two-point swing towards support for independence.
A YouGov poll for the Times on Monday found 38 per cent supporting independence, 51 per cent saying No, and 11 per cent undecided. Excluding the undecideds and non-voters, 43 per cent would vote for independence, the highest level since YouGov started asking the referendum question, the Times reports.
The polls cast doubt on a Survation survey published earlier in the month that suggested support for staying in the UK had surged after the strong debate performance by Alistair Darling, former UK chancellor and leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign.
Professor John Curtice, Scotland’s most high-profile psephologist, said the Survation poll might have suffered from random variation that created a swing where none existed or that the debate had had a short-term impact that had since been reversed.
“A pro-independence campaign that had appeared to be at risk of being written off by the media will now enter the last month of campaigning with renewed heart,” Prof Curtice wrote in a blog post. “Interest in and speculation about the outcome of the referendum will remain at fever pitch.”
International interest in Scotland’s referendum was highlighted when Tony Abbott, Australian prime minister, told the Times newspaper it was “hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland”.
“The people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Salmond slammed the “gaffe-prone” Mr Abbott’s comments as “foolish, hypocritical and offensive”.
“The independence process is about freedom and justice,” the first minister told the BBC. “Independence does not seem to have done Australia any harm.”
Scottish independence supporters argue that an independent Scotland would be able to make its own contribution to international security in the same way as other small northern European states and that the independence debate is an example to the world of the peaceful and democratic resolution of sovereignty issues.