Scotland Decides: 'No' camp narrowly leads as campaign enters final day

Rangers fans display No Thanks posters during the Rangers versus Inverness Caledonian Thistle soccer match in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Rangers fans display No Thanks posters during the Rangers versus Inverness Caledonian Thistle soccer match in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

EDINBURGH (AFP) - New opinion polls indicated Scotland could narrowly reject independence as the rival campaigns battled into Wednesday, the final day before a historic vote that could split the United Kingdom.

Three polls released late Tuesday all showed the pro-independence side had gained ground in the final weeks of the debate, but that the "No" campaign was still ahead by a slim margin.

The rival camps were set to fight until the last moment for victory in Thursday's referendum, with the Better Together and Yes Scotland campaigns both planning rallies of supporters in central Glasgow on the eve of the vote.

In a letter to the people of Scotland, first minister and leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) Alex Salmond urged the electorate to take its historic chance to end the 307-year-old union.

"The talking is nearly done. The campaigns will have had their say. What's left is just us - the people who live and work here. The only people with a vote. The people who matter," Salmond wrote.

"Wake up on Friday morning to the first day of a better country. Wake up knowing you did this - you made it happen."

"It's about taking your country's future into your hands. Don't let this opportunity slip through our fingers. Don't let them tell us we can't. Let's do this."

Narrowing gap

All three polls showed that support for independence had increased, but that when undecided voters were excluded, independence was set to be rejected by 52 per cent to 48 per cent. The ICM poll for The Scotsman newspaper said "No" support was ahead on 45 per cent to 41 per cent, with 14 per cent of voters still undecided.

Opinium said 49 per cent of respondents to their survey of 1,156 backed staying in the union, with 45 per cent set to vote for independence and 6 per cent undecided.

Meanwhile, a Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail said 47.7 per cent would vote "No" to independence, and 44.1 per cent would vote "Yes", with 8.3 per cent chosing "don't know".

An average of polls taken in the final week before the vote puts the race neck and neck, with "No" on 51 per cent and "Yes" on 49 per cent, according to research institute ScotCen.

"These polls - like all the recent polls - show that we are in touching distance of success on Thursday," said pro-independence Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins.

Record numbers of voters have registered for the referendum and turnout is expected to be very high. Pro-union Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said there would be no going back from the decision.

"This vote will go right down to the wire," McDougall said.

Now or never

"No" supporters outside Scotland declared Wednesday a "Day of Unity", calling public rallies in the centre of cities including Belfast, London and Manchester on the evening before voting begins.

"While we do not have a vote, we have a voice. With this voice we ask only one thing: choose unity. Unity with us. Unity with each other," the organisation wrote in an open letter to the people of Scotland.

On Tuesday, hundreds of pro-independence supporters gathered in a Glasgow rally, singing the country's unofficial anthem "Flower of Scotland" and waving blue-and-white Scottish Saltire flags.

In Edinburgh, 50-year-old Heather Wright said she was confident that Scots would vote for independence - although she acknowledged that many people were still undecided and it would be "very close".

"The future of Scotland will be hopefully in our hands. It's now or never," said the pro-independence Wright.

As the vote loomed, Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to defend his handling of the independence campaign. Newspapers reported there was anger within his Conservative Party at a decision to promise new powers for the Scottish parliament in a last minute bid to convince voters to stay in the union.

Several members of parliament told newspaper the Financial Times that Cameron would have to resign if Scotland voted for independence. "I hope Scots vote to stay; if it goes wrong, however, the prime minister will have to decide what the honourable thing is to do," said Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell.