What Alex Salmond long predicted has come to pass. With just 12 days remaining until the Scottish independence referendum, the Yes side has taken the lead. A YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sunday Times puts them on 51 per cent (+4), two points ahead of No. The Union is now in greater danger than at any other point in its 307-year history.
In the space of just a month, the 22-point lead that the No campaign held has been wiped out. Every age group, bar the over-60s, is now supporting independence, and 35 per cent of Labour supporters are in the Yes camp (up from just 18 per cent a month ago). Even more worrying for the No side is that YouGov has tended to favour them relative to other pollsters. This suggests that the Yes lead could even be greater in other surveys (with a Panelbase poll also due out tonight).
Salmond, a famously strong finisher, has always banked on a late surge. Back in July 2013, when the Yes side trailed by a double-digit margin, he told the New Statesman: “This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign. I went into an election [for the Scottish Parliament] in 2011 20 points behind in the polls and ended up 15 in front. The real game hasn’t even started. We are just clearing the ground.”
The key question is what the dramatic shift in the polls means for the race. A Yes lead could have the effect of boosting No as voters are forced to fully confront the consequences of break-up. Conversely, the momentum Yes now enjoys could carry it to an even greater victory. Some in the pro-independence campaign believe they need to have a large lead on the day to guarantee a Yes vote. In 1995, the Quebec separatists led by seven points in the final poll, but ended up losing by a point as voters swung towards the status quo once in the ballot box.
But after long assuming that a No vote was all but certain, Westminster is now being forced to mount a desperate 11th-hour attempt to save the Union, while also playing out what would be the remarkable consequences of a Yes vote.
In response, Alistair Darling has said:
“The polls may conflict, but the message I take from them is clear: If you want Scotland to remain part of the UK family you have to vote for it on 18 September. Separation is forever. These polls can and must now serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thought the referendum result was a foregone conclusion. It never was. It will go down to the wire. Now is the time to speak up and speak out.
“We are hitting the streets, knocking on the doors, making the calls in unprecedented numbers and we are hearing the people of Scotland respond positively to our vision of Scotland securing the best of both worlds. That means more powers for Scotland without taking on all the risks of separation.
“We relish this battle. It is not the Battle of Britain – it is the battle for Scotland, for Scotland’s children and grandchildren and the generations to come. This is a battle we will win.”
Update 22:26: Contrary to expectations, tonight’s Panelbase poll (a company which tends to favour Yes) has the No side ahead by 52-48 points. (The fieldwork took place from 2-4 September, compared to 2-6 September for YouGov.) But after the earlier YouGov poll, that is of little comfort to the Unionists. The race is now a statistical dead heat and the momentum is all with the Yes side.