Britain scrambles against time to woo Scots away from independence

A workman walks past a Scottish saltire in Kilmarnock, Scotland on Sept 3, 2014. The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls towards a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powe
A workman walks past a Scottish saltire in Kilmarnock, Scotland on Sept 3, 2014. The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls towards a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powers for Scotland if it chooses to stay within the United Kingdom. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls towards a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powers for Scotland if it chooses to stay within the United Kingdom.

British finance minister George Osborne said on Sunday that plans would be set out in the coming days to give Scotland more autonomy on tax, spending and welfare if Scots vote against independence in a historic referendum on Sept. 18.

Mr Osborne's comments came after a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed supporters of independence had taken their first opinion poll lead since the referendum campaign began.

With less than two weeks to go before the vote, the poll put the "Yes" to independence campaign on 51 per cent and the "No" camp on 49 per cent, overturning a 22-point lead for the unionist position in just a month.

"You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland ... Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds. They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be," Mr Osborne told the BBC.

"More tax-raising powers, much greater fiscal autonomy ... more control over public expenditure, more control over welfare rates and a host of other changes," he said, adding that the measures were being agreed by all three major parties in the British parliament.

Mr Osborne said the changes would be put into effect the moment there was a 'no' vote in the referendum.

Ms Nicola Sturgeon, deputy leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, welcomed the poll as a "very significant moment" in the campaign and rejected the talk of more devolved powers for Scotland.

"I don't think people are going to take this seriously. If the other parties had been serious about more powers, then something concrete would have been put forward before now," she told Sky news.