Has Salmond peaked too early?

New polling shows the No camp firmly back in the lead.

New polling shows the No camp firmly back in the lead

On Sunday, YouGov’s polling for the Sunday Times set the fight to save the Union alight, revealing, for the first time, that the pro-independence camp was leading the No campaign by 2 per cent.

It was a result that set Better Together into something of a panic, with George Osborne sent onto the Andrew Marr programme to promise a firm timetable for further devolution if Scotland rejected independence; Gordon Brown setting that timetable out; and all three of the main UK party leaders heading north of the border to make the case for Scotland keeping its place within the union.

The feeling of desperation was palpable, but it might possibly have worked, however unlikely I had felt earlier in the week that would prove to be.

According to YouGov’s latest data for The Times and The Sun, conducted just after Gordon Brown’s intervention on Monday, and in the midst of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband’s visit, the ‘No’ camp may have avoided doomsday.

In the first poll by the organisation since the one published on Sunday, when the don’t knows are excluded 52 per cent of voters in Scotland intend to vote No, with 48 per cent supporting the proposition that Scotland should be an independent country – a 4 per cent lead.

But why the turn around?

One need look no further than what today’s polling says on the economy and the financial security of an independent Scotland.

Amidst a flurry of dire warnings from the governor of the Bank of England on the SNP’s plans for currency union, and Scotland’s oil experts on the extent to which Alex Salmond has overestimated how much of the black Gold Scotland has; as well as the banks’ warning that they will pull their operations from Scotland under independence (N.B none of which are politicians, a small but important point), the people of Scotland seem to have responded in kind.

Asked by YouGov if they feel and independent Scotland would be economically better or worse off, 48 per cent now say worse off – up from the 42 per cent who thought this on Sunday. In contrast, 37 per cent now feel it would be better off, compared to 40 per cent over the weekend.

More starkly still, asked if they felt that they personally would be financially better or worse off if Scotland became an independent country, 45 per cent now say worse off, compared to the 37 per cent who felt this on Sunday. A fifth (21 per cent) now say they believe they would be better off personally under independence, down from the 23 per cent who thought this on Sunday.

Interestingly as well, Labour’s love bombing of Scotland may also be beginning to work. On Sunday, it was noticeable how big a proportion of Labour voters were planning to vote for independence.

In today’s poll, however, when the don’t knows are taken out, 19 per cent of those saying they intend to vote Labour at the next elections to Holyrood said they intend vote for independence. At the weekend, this figure was 25 per cent. In contrast, 81 per cent of this group now say they will reject independence, up from the 75 per cent who said so previously.

Writing in today’s Times on the results, Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, has pinned the turnaround squarely at the door of Gordon Brown.

Declaring that Alex Salmond has ‘lost this week’s skirmishes’, he concludes:

“Shortly before he stepped down as Prime Minister, Tony Blair warned David Cameron to beware Gordon Brown’s “great clunking fist”. Cameron survived it, but Alex Salmond’s bid for Scottish independence may not. Since Brown entered the debate, the Yes bandwagon, which had been rolling so dramatically, has stalled. His warnings that independence would be bad for jobs and family finances have struck home.”

But for those in the Better Together who believe they can now relax, the warning from this week’s polls is ultimately that no one really knows what is likely to happen when voters go to the polls next Thursday.

Whilst the spectre of independence remains very real, the danger of Better Together limping over the winning line is equally dangerous.

Those campaigning for Scotland to stay in the Union should be aiming for a clear victory that kills talk of independence for a generation. A close result could and would ultimately lead to the indepnence movement remaining alive and well and keeping itself as a festering sore in Scottish politics.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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