A surprising new poll by YouGov for The Sunday Times (paywall) shows that 51% of people in Scotland approve of independence compared to 49% who do not. That is a remarkable turnaround; a month ago, the unionists had a 22-point lead over secessionists. The poll comes with less than two weeks before the Scots referendum. The head of the Better Together campaign, the former chancellor Alistair Darling, said the poll was a “wake-up call.”
So what has changed? Two TV debates took place between Darling and Alexander Salmond, Scotland’s first minister. Darling won the first round on Aug. 5, but Salmond took the second on Aug. 25—especially on the extraordinarily high-minded issues that have dominated the campaign so far. The Braveheart references have been far and few between.
Instead, the Yes and No campaigns have sparred over whether Scotland will get to keep the pound, spending over North Sea oil, and the Trident nuclear submarine force kept north of the border.
Another factor is that Scotland is a historically left-leaning country. Scots never returned a majority of Conservative MPs to Westminster in the 1980s while Margaret Thatcher ruled—they lost half their seats in one election—but Scots were still subject to her libertarian economic polices. The memory remains. Even now, there is only one Tory MP from Scotland in London out of 59.
The current British government is being led by the Conservatives, and they are aware of their stunning lack of appeal as they head northwards; the head of the Better Together group that the government supports, Darling, is from the Labour Party. But Salmond has been successful recently in making the case that Scotland on its own will be one of the richest nations in the world and will be able to protect the National Health Service and prevent privatization of other government services proposed by politicians in London. Indeed, Labour is trying to convince its supporters not to vote for independence.
UK Chancellor George Osborne on Sunday promised to unveil new powers for Scotland in the event they vote against independence. But that bribe causes a future headache for people who like their kingdoms united. A Welsh minister said that whatever devolution is offered to Scotland should be offered to Wales and Northern Ireland. The Queen is also worried. The Times reported she has a “great deal of concern” of losing Scotland under her reign and has asked for daily updates on the vote, which takes place on Sept. 18.