Scots Independence Gains Support as Clock Ticks on U.K.

Support for Scottish independence rose before this month’s referendum, with a YouGov Plc poll showing the lead for the No campaign down to six percentage points as nationalists said the momentum is behind them.

Little more than two weeks before the Sept. 18 ballot on independence from the U.K., the No vote dropped to 48 percent from 51 percent in the last survey two weeks ago, the YouGov poll for today’s Times and Sun newspapers showed. That compared with 42 percent who said they’ll vote Yes, up two percentage points. Ten percent said they’ve yet to make up their mind.

Stripping out undecided voters, the poll found 53 percent of respondents would vote against independence and 47 percent in favor. The six-point deficit narrowed from 14 points in the last YouGov poll conducted Aug. 12-15.

“There seems little doubt that this poll will electrify the campaign,” John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde, said on his blog. “The Yes side will now be able to argue with some conviction that they have gained momentum and can hope that they might yet secure a dramatic and historic victory. The No side, meanwhile, will be asking itself why it now apparently finds itself in a desperate last minute fight.”

The poll is a boost for Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond as he seeks to end the 307-year-old U.K. It’s also a wake-up call to Prime Minister David Cameron, who along with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the main opposition Labour Party has championed the union and urged voters in Scotland to vote No to independence.

Pound Risk

The “significant” risk posed to the pound “is now grabbing more market attention,” Morgan Stanley analysts in London led by Hans Redeker, head of global currency strategy, said in a note following publication of the poll.

“We suggest that this narrowing of the latest opinion polls is likely to see an increase in risk premia for GBP, given the increased uncertainty,” said Redeker. “Indeed, the U.K. government has reiterated that there is no contingency plan in the case of a Yes vote in the referendum.”

The pound declined as much as 0.5 percent to $1.6529 today, halting four days of gains.

The two largest British bookmakers cut the odds further for Scotland voting for independence. William Hill Plc put the chances of a Yes vote at 11-4, meaning a bet of four pounds would win 11 pounds plus the return of the stake, reducing the odds from 4-1 last week. A bet on voters rejecting independence gets 1-4. Ladbrokes Plc showed the same odds on its website.

Final Stretch

With campaigning entering the final stretch, the Better Together campaign led by former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling is continuing its focus on the risks posed by independence, including uncertainty over Scotland’s future currency and North Sea oil revenue. Salmond, who heads the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, argues that self-governing Scots are better equipped to protect the health service and preserve social justice.

“We’ve always said from the outset that there’s no room for complacency,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today. “There isn’t any change in the government’s approach. We have confidence in the argument that the government and others are making and we need to keep making it.”

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown began a tour of central Scotland to appeal to traditional Labour voters to reject independence amid evidence that some party supporters may be shifting toward a Yes vote.

Doorstep Campaign

Of Scotland’s 59 lawmakers at the U.K. Parliament at Westminster in London, 40 are Labour members and six from Salmond’s Scottish National Party. Scotland returned just one Conservative member of the Westminster Parliament. That means Salmond needs to convince at least some Labour backers to defy the party line and vote for independence if he is to win.

“Game on,” Peter Kellner, London-based YouGov’s president, was cited as saying in an article accompanying the poll in the Sun newspaper. Salmond is “within touching distance of victory,” he said.

The YouGov poll suggested the Yes campaign is more effective at reaching voters on the ground.

Almost three-quarters of the 1,063 respondents surveyed, 74 percent, said they had received leaflets from the pro-independence camp, with the equivalent number 65 percent for No. Fifteen percent said they received no contact from the Yes campaign, compared with 26 percent who hadn’t heard from No.

Changing Opinion

While the latest YouGov poll matches the six-point gap between the two sides recorded by Survation for the Scottish Daily Mail last week, YouGov has typically shown the No camp further ahead than Survation. In early August, the pollster put the anti-independence lead at as much as 22 percentage points.

The latest YouGov poll was conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1. No margin of error was given.

“If the vote is close –- as polls indicate it probably will be –- the independence question may not disappear for long,” Simon Wells, chief U.K. economist at HSBC Securities Inc. in London, said yesterday in a note.

Details of donations to the campaigns published today showed that the band The Proclaimers, whose song “Cap in Hand” includes the line “I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land,” gave 10,000 pounds ($16,525) to the Yes campaign on Aug. 5.

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