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The campaign for Scottish independence has won a lead in a YouGov opinion poll less than two weeks before a referendum that could bring to an end the 307-year-old union at the heart of the UK and send political shockwaves across Europe.
The survey from a pollster that just a month ago showed a 22 point lead for remaining in the UK suggests previously undecided voters are increasingly breaking towards a Yes vote on September 18 and that Scottish independence is now a real possibility.
The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found 51 per cent of voters in Scotland would back independence, compared with 49 per cent opposed, when undecided voters were excluded. The result marked a four point increase in support for a Yes vote in less than a week.
The poll result is likely to fuel financial sector jitters about the effect of independence on the pound, UK debt and companies with exposure to or operations in Scotland. It will further energise the highly motivated independence movement, although it could also galvanise a No campaign effort that has generally been seen as less dynamic.
Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign, said the latest poll results were a “wake-up call” to anyone still thinking the referendum result was a “foregone conclusion” but that independence would still be rejected by voters.
“It will go down to the wire. Now is the time to speak up and speak out,” Mr Darling said. “We relish this battle.”
But even before the YouGov poll, some No campaign insiders had reported that anxiety was intensifying amid signs that senior pro-union politicians were scrambling to find ways to shore up support.
In an interview with the Scottish Mail on Sunday, Ed Miliband, UK Labour leader, raised the prospect of manned border posts being erected between England and Scotland after a vote for independence.
“If you don’t want borders, vote to stay in the United Kingdom,” the paper quoted Mr Miliband as saying.
However, the Labour leader’s warning risks fuelling perceptions among Scottish voters that Westminster parties are trying to scare them into rejecting independence, with yes campaigners noting that seamless borders are the norm across the EU and between the UK and Ireland.
The YouGov poll will further boost already high Yes camp morale. But Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, cautioned against relying too much on an opinion poll result. “It’s the vote on 18/9 that counts so let’s redouble our efforts & stay focused,” Ms Sturgeon tweeted.
The latest YouGov poll found that when people who were undecided were included, support for independence stood at 47 per cent against the 45 per cent backing a No vote.
Experts say that no single poll’s finding should be considered conclusive and the Press Association reported on Saturday that a separate survey for Panelbase for the Yes Scotland independence campaign had found support for a No vote still leading by 52 per cent to 48 per cent when undecideds were excluded.
Panelbase has previously tended to find higher levels of support for independence than rivals such as YouGov and conducted the only previous major opinion survey to report a lead for the Yes campaign, a survey commissioned in August 2013 by the Scottish National party.