LONDON (Reuters) - Support for Scottish independence has risen after Britain’s three main political parties warned the Scots they would not be able to keep the pound if they left the United Kingdom, the first opinion poll following those comments showed.
The message sparked an angry response from Scottish leader Alex Salmond who said Scotland had every right to continue to use the pound and that “bullying” from London would create a backlash.
A Survation poll in the Scottish Daily Mail on Thursday seemed to bear that prediction out.
It showed the gap between those who would vote for or against independence in a referendum scheduled for September 18 had narrowed to 9 percentage points from 20 points.
The poll of 1,005 people found 38 percent support for Scotland ending its 307-year union with England, up from 32 percent in January, while 47 percent would vote to stay in the UK, down from 52 percent, and 16 percent were undecided.
“It is clear that there has been a severe backlash to (British Chancellor) George Osborne’s bluster and threats on the pound,” Scottish National Party (SNP) deputy Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement.
“... Far more people (are) more likely to vote Yes (to independence) on the back of the Westminster establishment’s attempted bullying rather than No.”
The debate over whether Scotland, which has a population of just over 5 million and oil fields off its coast, should leave the UK has become increasingly heated as the referendum vote nears [ID:nL6N0LN11G].
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also ruffled Scottish feathers on Sunday, saying it would be “difficult if not impossible” for any breakaway state to join the European Union.
Conducted on February 17 and 18, the Survation poll found 52 percent of respondents thought it would be in the interests of the rest of the UK to join a currency union with an independent Scotland while only 25 percent disagreed. The rest did not know.
Salmond said blocking Scotland’s access to the pound would hurt both sides of the border as currency translation costs would impact trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
He has argued that the pound is a shared asset and Scotland could refuse take a share of liabilities such as the UK’s 1.2 trillion pound debt if it was refused access.
But Chancellor Osborne said Scotland would lose the pound if it voted for independence.
The Survation poll also found 65 percent of respondents wanted Salmond to come up with a Plan B for the currency.
So far, the pro-independence camp has trailed in polls, but the gap has narrowed this year.
A second poll from TNS also released on Thursday found 29 percent of Scots plan to vote for independence with 42 percent intending to vote against. It found 29 percent were still undecided.
This was unchanged from a similar poll in early February but the poll of 996 adults was conducted before the row over the pound.
Tom Costley, head of TNS in Scotland, said the debate had stepped up a gear following the comments on the pound and by Barroso.
“It may be that the recent activity, especially the firm statement by the anti-independence parties on the future of the pound, will stimulate more debate, bring out more information and help undecided voters to make up their minds.”
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith and Stephen Addison; Editing by John Stonestreet