EDINBURGH Supporters of keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom have clawed back a 4 percentage point lead over separatists, a YouGov poll showed on Friday with just a week to go before Scots vote in a referendum on independence.
The YouGov survey for The Times and Sun newspapers put Scottish support for the union at 52 percent versus support for independence at 48 percent, excluding those who said they did not know how they would vote. YouGov's last poll showed support for independence at 51 percent.
"The 'no' campaign has moved back into the lead in Scotland’s referendum campaign," YouGov President Peter Kellner said in a commentary on the survey. "This is the first time 'no' has gained ground since early August."
Pollsters YouGov and TNS have shown a surge in support for independence since late August as the secessionist campaign led by Alex Salmond won over supporters of the traditionally unionist Labour party and some female voters in Scotland.
So far only one poll this year, from YouGov last weekend, has put the separatists in front. That survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 to 3 percentage points, showed a 2 percentage point lead for the independence campaign.
"Although 'no' is back in front, the 'yes' campaign has held on to most of its gains since early August," Kellner said of YouGov's latest survey, which polled 1,268 people in Scotland between Tuesday and Thursday.
The sudden collapse of the strong unionist lead has prompted investors to sell sterling, shares in companies with Scottish exposure and British government bonds on fears that the United Kingdom might break up.
Following a vote for independence on Sept. 18, Britain and Scotland would have to begin work on dividing up the United Kingdom's $2.5 trillion economy, North Sea oil and the national debt while Prime Minister David Cameron would face calls to resign.
Scotland would have to decide what currency it would use after London said it could not keep the pound, while Britain would have to decide what to do about its main nuclear submarine base on the Clyde, which the nationalists would like to eject.
The polls showing a large swing in support to the Scottish nationalists sowed panic in the British ruling elite. Cameron headed to Edinburgh on Wednesday where he begged Scots not to destroy the "family of nations" that makes up the United Kingdom.
In a hurried attempt to win back support for the union, the Labour Party rushed dozens of lawmakers to Scotland where it is the only political force that rivals the Scottish nationalists.
After two British banks - Edinburgh-based Lloyds (LLOY.L) and RBS (RBS.L) - said they would shift their registered head offices to London if Scotland voted to break away, Salmond accused the British government of orchestrating a campaign by corporate lenders.
“Scotland is on the cusp of making history. The eyes of the world are on Scotland," Salmond, a 59-year-old former oil economist at RBS, told reporters in Edinburgh.
“Scotland will vote 'yes' next Thursday. And they’ll vote 'yes' because last minute cobbled up promises from the 'no' campaign which unravel at the slightest scrutiny will not fool anyone in this country, and neither will blatant bullying and intimidation of the Westminster government."
The pro-independence camp says it is time for Scots to rule their own country and build a fairer society without being told what to do by a political elite in London whom they accuse of mismanaging Scotland's wealth.
The unionist campaign, supported by the three main political parties in the Westminster parliament, says Scotland is more prosperous and secure within the United Kingdom and says an independent Scotland would face serious financial and economic hurdles.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)