The embattled campaign against Scottish independence earned some respite on Wednesday as a poll gave the No side a six-point lead and leading bankers and oil bosses joined Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, in warning of the potential costs of separation.
On the day that David Cameron said he would be “heartbroken” if the United Kingdom was broken up, a Survation poll for the Daily Record suggested the No campaign’s lead was holding steady at 53 against 47 for Yes.
The poll – unchanged from two months ago – helped to calm nerves in a Better Together campaign which has been in crisis mode in recent days, with Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband abandoning Westminster to campaign in Scotland.
With other polls showing the two sides neck-and-neck, business leaders have also become more vocal in warning of the risks of independence.
Lloyds Banking Group said it would relocate from Edinburgh to London if the Yes camp wins next week’s independence referendum as it seeks to address mounting concerns among Scottish customers. Royal Bank of Scotland is expected to make a statement on its relocation plans on Thursday.
The potential impact on Scotland’s financial industry of a Yes vote has become a central issue in the Scottish independence debate. Until now, Lloyds and RBS have tried to avoid saying much about their contingency plans for Scottish independence.
And Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said the future prospects for the North Sea were best served by maintaining the existing capacity and integrity of the United Kingdom
He backed the views of energy industry veteran Sir Ian Wood, who attacked predictions by some Yes campaigners that far more oil and gas may be recoverable from the Scottish section of the North Sea than suggested by current rates of declining production.
Ben van Beurden, the head of Royal Dutch Shell, also backed Sir Ian’s assessment that the North Sea offered diminishing returns to both taxpayers and oil operators and said: “We’d like to see Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mark Carney said an independent Scotland would need to build up large currency stockpiles to successfully use the pound without a formal agreement with the rest of the UK.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, believes momentum is still on his side and mocked Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Nick Clegg as “Team Westminster jetting up to Scotland for the day because they are panicking”.
Angus Grossart, chairman of merchant bank Noble Grossart and one of the most influential figures in the Scottish financial establishment, said some commentary on the referendum’s market impact had been “severely overstated” and people should “stay cool and not panic”.
“I think it is getting out of hand, a severe overreaction,” he said. “The FTSE seems perfectly stable today, but to hear some of the comments you almost expect people to be predicting a plague of locusts or mice next.”
Mr Cameron vowed to stay on as prime minister to “help” Scotland make the transition to independence if the country votes Yes in next week’s referendum, but he said such a task would be “heartbreaking”.
On a hastily arranged campaigning visit to Edinburgh, Mr Cameron confronted the prospect of a Yes vote and said that such a verdict “would have to be respected by the rest of the United Kingdom”.
He has ruled out resigning if Scotland votes for separation and said: “As prime minister of the rest of the United Kingdom, I would have to help make that happen. It would be a heartbreaking thing to have to do.”
Mr Cameron’s acknowledgment of the risk of a Yes vote is a sign of growing concern in Downing St that defeat is a real possibility. He also knows that by coming to Scotland, he risked antagonising Labour voters flirting with a Yes vote.
Speaking at the Scottish Widows headquarters in Edinburgh’s financial district, Mr Cameron admitted that some Scots might see the referendum as a chance to say they were “fed up with the effing Tories”.
But he said: “This is different to the next election. It’s not about the next five years but about the next century. You would be voting irrevocably for separation.”
“I care more about my country than I do about my party,” Mr Cameron said.
Mr Cameron’s speech to financial services workers in a modern office block was in a controlled environment, once again avoiding the risk of a street confrontation with Yes supporters.
His visit coincided with separate speeches by Ed Miliband, Labour party leader, and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Miliband told an audience he wanted “to make the case about why I think the right thing to do is to vote for No. And for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, head, heart and soul”.
With opinion polls showing the result of the September 18 referendum too close to call, former prime minister John Major said on Wednesday that a Yes vote would be “a disaster for the UK”, and criticised the pro-independence campaign’s “incompetence” of failing to clarify what currency an independent Scotland would use.
“The people of Scotland do not know what currency they will have. I have never known such incompetence,” he told BBC Radio 4. “The uncertainty of voting to leave the UK without knowing what your currency is going to be is extraordinary.”
Stating that he was “desperately concerned” about how the union would be weakened by a Yes vote, Mr Major warned that the UK’s defences would be reduced by the loss of Trident nuclear weapons, which would diminish the UK’s standing with Nato and the US.
“The UK would be weaker in every international body it attends, including the EU,” he said.
Mr Major questioned the logic of Scots wanting “to leave the most successful union in history in order to join the European Union – perhaps – in some years, which is facing difficulties”.
He added: “As 5m people among 500m people, they will be in a much weaker position to influence the position of Scotland than they are now, and that needs to be understood before next Thursday.”
Mr Salmond on Tuesday accused the No campaign of “being in complete and utter disarray and they are making this farce up as they go along”.
“I relish David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg coming to Scotland – collectively, they are the least trusted Westminster leaders ever, and this day trip will galvanise the Yes vote,” he said.
Mr Salmond clashed with Alistair Darling, the head of Better Together, on issues ranging from currency union and mortgages to the NHS and child poverty in a web-based Q&A organised by the parenting website Mumsnet.
Mr Darling had arguably the best line; in response to accusations that the No campaign was scaremongering: “If I saw you step out in front of a bus and I shouted a warning, would that be scaremongering, would it?”
However, neither of the two men appeared to convince any of the commenters, with PeaceLovingMum summing up many people’s thoughts: “A shame they couldn’t answer more and they were very selective – repeating lots of things they’ve said a million times. I think it just goes to show that we have all the information we’re going to get. Best of luck fellow voters and let’s hope that what is best for the greater good wins out. x.”
Additional reporting by John Aglionby and Claer Barrett in London