Support for the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK is holding up as the number of undecided voters falls sharply with less than a week to go until the independence referendum, according to the latest polling.
After a couple of polls earlier in the week showing the race neck-and-neck or the Yes side in the lead, the last two polls have put the Better Together campaign back in front.
On Thursday evening, a YouGov poll for the Times and the Sun gave the unionists 52 per cent support against 48 per cent for independence. The figures did not include undecided voters, who now only number 4 per cent of the electorate, the survey found and have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 per cent.
This compares to a YouGov poll five weeks ago showing No leading by about 55 per cent to 35 per cent, with 10 per cent undecided.
The bounce in support for Better Together came after one of Britain’s top industrialists warned that a Yes vote could cast an uncertainty over the UK economy for a decade, as Scotland’s banks led a sustained onslaught against independence.
Sir Mike Rake, chairman of BT Group, deputy chairman of Barclays and president of the CBI employers’ organisation, said independence would destabilise investment in Scotland and the rest of the UK. “The uncertainty will last for easily 10 years,” he told the Financial Times.
“Inevitably this uncertainty will lead to a slowdown in investment in the UK as a whole as well as Scotland.”
Five banks said they would move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote and are lobbying the Treasury to pass new laws to speed up the transfer of their corporate bases to England.
Marks and Spencer, the leading UK chain, is also poised to warn the Scots of the possibility of rising prices should they vote Yes, according to people familiar with the matter.
Marc Bolland, chief executive of M&S, is expected to sign a joint letter with other leading stores. Retailers have warned of the costs of doing business in a new country with a dispersed population and uncertain currency and tax arrangements.
David Cameron has been urging business leaders to speak out against independence for months.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist first minister, said Mr Cameron was orchestrating a campaign of business “scaremongering”, adding that Scots would ignore the warnings. “Scotland is on the cusp of making history,” he said. “Scotland will vote Yes next Thursday.”
Royal Bank of Scotland led a host of banks, employing more than 35,000 people in Scotland, warning they would relocate their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote on September 18.
But the banks, including Lloyds Banking Group, are worried that the costly and lengthy legal process required to change the domicile of a bank would be further delayed if many institutions rushed to move south at the same time. They have told the Bank of England and the Treasury there would be a case for new legislation.
The announcements from RBS and Lloyds were swiftly echoed by Clydesdale Bank, TSB Bank and Tesco Bank; government insiders said the move was co-ordinated by the Better Together campaign for a No vote.
Aegon UK, the subsidiary of the eponymous Dutch insurer, joined its rival Standard Life in saying it would move its registered life company to England if the Scots voted for independence.
The banks believe that they risk being penalised by investors and rating agencies if they keep their domicile in an independent Scotland and lose the support of the Bank of England as their lender of last resort. Inquiries from nervous customers about the consequences of a Yes vote have also increased since the polls narrowed last week.
Mr Salmond said RBS’s contingency plan would not affect jobs or an independent Scotland’s corporation tax base. “Corporation tax depends not on the registered office but on economic activity,” he said.
He accused Treasury officials of deliberately leaking market sensitive information about RBS to damage the Yes campaign.
But Sir Jeremy Heywood, in a letter to Mr Salmond, rejected the accusation, saying staff at the Treasury had just “confirmed its understanding of RBS’s contingency planning . . . [to] maintain financial stability”.
Danny Alexander, UK Treasury chief secretary, said: “If all these great institutions locate to England, you would absolutely see a loss of jobs at headquarters, but over time you would see a pulling away in terms of engagement with Scotland.”
Ross McEwan, the RBS chief executive, wrote to his 12,000 staff in Scotland saying they would not be relocated if there was a Yes vote. “This is a technical procedure regarding the location of our registered head office. It is not an intention to move operations or jobs,” he said in the letter.
Mr Salmond, speaking in Edinburgh, said the business campaign was being whipped up by Downing Street, which was “trying to galvanise leading business people to try to say something negative about Scotland”.
He contrasted what he branded scaremongering by the London establishment with what he portrayed as the positive mood among Scots who were “rediscovering self-confidence” and “finding our voice”.
Reporting by John Aglionby, Sarah Gordon, Patrick Jenkins, Martin Arnold, George Parker, Sam Fleming and Andrea Felsted