Support for Scotland to stay in the UK has surged since Tuesday’s debate between Alex Salmond, Scotland’s Nationalist first minister, and leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign Alistair Darling, according to the first full size opinion poll since the much-watched television encounter.
The poll by Survation for the Scottish Daily Mail suggests the debate, in which Mr Salmond came under heavy pressure over currency issues, was a major setback for the already-trailing Yes campaign just six weeks ahead of Scotland’s referendum.
The survey of 1,010 people, conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, found that support for a No vote had risen to 50 per cent, up four percentage points since its previous poll just a week earlier. Support for Yes was down three points at 37 per cent with 13 per cent of voters still undecided.
Though analysts caution against reading too much into a single poll, the survey is a particular blow to the pro-independence campaigners since Survation has consistently found higher levels of support for Yes than most other pollsters.
Blair McDougall, Better Together campaign director said the result showed that the question of what currency an independent Scotland would use was fundamental to the referendum debate.
Anti-independence campaigners have put heavy pressure on Mr Salmond’s Scottish National party to identify a “Plan B” to a post-independence formal currency union with the remaining UK, a scheme all the main UK parties insist they would reject.
“Those of us who believe that the brightest future for Scotland is to stay part of the UK should be encouraged by this poll, but we cannot be complacent, even for a second,” Mr McDougall said.
The SNP sought comfort in the Survation polls finding that 40 per cent of voters thought the Westminster parties’ were bluffing when they rejected currency union compared with 39 per cent who thought they were not.
“Despite a new onslaught of scaremongering from the No camp parties, it is clear that people in Scotland still aren’t buying Westminster’s currency bluff,” said Stewart Hosie, SNP Treasury spokesperson.
John Curtice, psephologist at the University of Strathclyde, said many voters appeared to favour the SNP policy of continuing to use the pound after independence and to discount Westminster opposition, but that the debate and the “less than flattering” reporting of Mr Salmond’s performance appeared to have had an impact.
“One particular difficulty that Mr Salmond faced was that he appeared evasive when asked what his Plan B on the currency would be. This clearly does not go down well with voters,” Prof Curtice said.
Survation found that 53 per cent of people who watched at least part of the debate thought Mr Darling had won it compared, compared with just 28 per cent who though Mr Salmond prevailed.
The SNP has sought to regain the campaign initiative by highlighting the risk of growing budget pressures on Scotland’s devolved health system of staying in the UK amid UK government austerity policies and what it calls the creeping “privatisation” of the NHS in England.
'A Yes vote next month is Scotland’s one opportunity to protect our NHS from Westminster’s agenda of austerity and privatisation,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister.
Pro-union parties insist independence would mean a more severe budget squeeze, given Scotland’s reliance on volatile and uncertain revenues from North Sea oil and gas.
Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour leader, on Saturday warned that leaving the UK would mean spending cuts or tax hikes.
"Salmond may rave against austerity but he knows a new, additional wave of austerity would come after independence,” Ms Lamont said in remarks released ahead of speech in Glasgow.