Scottish Independence Suffers Poll Setback Before Vote

Independence Supporters and Opponents
"Yes" and "No" voters demonstrate on Rutherglen main street in Glasgow, Scotland, on September 10, 2014. Photographer: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond’s bid for independence lost ground in an opinion poll a week before a referendum that could lead to the breakup of the U.K. after more than three centuries.

The poll by Survation for the Daily Record newspaper in Glasgow put the No lead at six percentage points when excluding undecided voters, with 47 percent support for the Yes campaign and 53 percent opposed to independence. The results follow a survey by YouGov Plc last weekend that put the Yes side ahead for the first time, a swing that sent the pound tumbling.

It was one of a series of blows to hit the Yes campaign last night. Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Clydesdale Bank Plc all said they were working on plans to move some operations out of Scotland in the event of independence. And the Scotsman newspaper called on voters to reject independence.

Salmond said today the RBS move wouldn’t affect any jobs and accused London-based politicians of a “scaremongering” operation. “The people of Scotland have moved beyond this sort of intimidation and for that reason are moving towards the Yes campaign,” Salmond told the BBC.

The outcome is “very hard to predict,” said Andrew Hawkins, chairman of polling company ComRes Ltd. “Referendums are difficult for polling companies, but I’m increasingly of the view that it will be a tight win by No.”

Emergency Visits

That may offer reassurance to Prime Minister David Cameron and fellow U.K. party leaders after they made emergency trips to Scotland yesterday to urge Scots to recoil from seeking independence in the Sept. 18 vote. It might also give some respite to traders and investors concerned about further declines in the value of the pound.

Sterling rose 0.1 percent against the dollar to $1.6228 at 9:41 a,m. in London after strengthening 0.7 percent yesterday.

The results of the poll are barely changed from the last survey by Survation, published on Aug. 28. When taking into account all respondents, 42 percent said they would vote Yes, up one point, and 48 percent No, unchanged. At the same time, 10 percent said they were undecided how to vote.

The people yet to make up their minds are being courted by both sides as the campaigns enter their final week.

“We are better together,” the Scotsman said in an editorial today. Scotland’s best interests lie “in continuing the union,” it said.

‘Our Home’

“You’ve heard a lot of what I call arguments of the head, but it’s also important we make arguments of the heart,” Cameron told workers at life insurer Scottish Widows in Edinburgh. “I would be heartbroken if this family of nations was torn apart. Don’t for one second think the rest of the U.K. is indifferent. These islands are our home.”

In the audience was Jeff Martin, 42, an accountant originally from Sunderland, northeast England, who has lived in Edinburgh for 14 years. “I’m getting nervous because of what the opinion polls are saying,” he said afterward. He will vote No, “but if it’s Yes, I become Scottish, I suppose.”

The Survation poll covered 1,000 residents of Scotland on Sept. 5-9 and the margin of error was 3.1 percentage points. It illustrates the spread of results that confound attempts to predict the referendum outcome.

The five main polls this month have measured the Yes vote at between 38 percent and 47 percent, with No ranging from 39 percent to 48 percent and undecideds at anything between 7 percent and 23 percent.

Miliband, Clegg

In the past week, YouGov put the independence camp one point ahead, and TNS had them one point behind. Those results spurred a flurry of activity from opponents of independence. Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, also traveled to Scotland to make a pitch for the union, as did Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister.

Meanwhile, more companies have been voicing concern over the breakup of the U.K. since the polls shifted.

BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc both warned that Scotland’s oil reserves are lower than nationalists estimate. Standard Life Plc said again that it’s considering moving units to England, and the chief executive officer of Kingfisher Plc said a vote for independence would mean a freeze on investment.

Polling for a referendum is made harder because there’s no record of past behavior to help model how likely people are to vote. The Yes campaign responded to the Survation poll by pointing out it was the highest they had ever scored in a survey by the company.

‘Touching Distance’

“This puts Yes support at its highest yet in a Survation poll when those still undecided are included, and at 47 percent excluding don’t knows,” Yes Scotland’s head, Blair Jenkins, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are in touching distance of success next Thursday, and will galvanize all those who are wanting and working for a Yes to redouble their efforts.”

His counterpart from the anti-independence Better Together campaign, Blair McDougall, said that the “fight for Scotland’s future will go right down to the wire, but it’s one we will win. This is too important for a protest vote,” he said in a statement. “There would be no going back.”

Ladbrokes Plc said it was cutting the odds of a No vote, and will now pay out 4 pounds for every 11 pounds bet, instead of 4 pounds for every 9 pounds bet.

“The latest poll has been a significant market mover,” spokesman Alex Donohue said in a statement. “Until its publication it looked like the odds were only going to get closer but it wouldn’t surprise us now if Yes odds only get longer from here.”

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