On Eve Of Vote, Anti-Independence Forces Have Slight Lead In Scotland

It's all over but the voting in Scotland.

Scotland and UK flagsnite

By this time tomorrow, Scottish voters will be heading to the polls to decide the question of whether or not they should separate themselves from the United Kingdom and become an independent country for the first time in over three centuries. As I’ve noted before, the polling on the issue has gone back and forth with the anti-independence side seeming to have momentum in late August only to see the independence forces pull even in the past few weeks. As we wait for the only poll that matters, three final polls show the unionist side with a slight lead, but it seems as though the outcome is truly up in the air:

(Reuters) – Scottish supporters of staying in the United Kingdom are 4 percentage points ahead of secessionists with just a day to go before Scots vote in an independence referendum, three different opinion polls showed.

The United Kingdom’s fate remains uncertain as the three surveys – from pollsters ICM, Opinium and Survation – showed support for Scottish independence at 48 percent compared to 52 percent backing union.

The polls found 8 to 14 percent of Scotland’s 4.3 million voters were still undecided before polls open at 0600 GMT on Thursday.

All three polls showed nationalists had gained ground, but the fact that supporters of the union were ahead in the polls prompted investors to buy the pound, extending sterling’s gain against the U.S. dollar.

“It is very tight,” John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and one of Scotland’s premier pollsters, told the Scotsman newspaper which commissioned the ICM poll.

“At the moment it looks as if the ‘yes’ campaign is going to fall agonizingly short from their perspective. But I have always said this is the ‘no’ campaign’s to lose and it certainly looks as if they have got pretty close to that.”

In the face of the biggest internal threat to the United Kingdom since Ireland broke away nearly a century ago, Britain’s establishment – from Prime Minister David Cameron to the City of London and soccer star David Beckham – have united in an almost panicked effort to implore Scots that the United Kingdom is “Better Together.”

Attempting to blunt nationalist leader Alex Salmond’s argument for breaking away, Britain’s rulers promised to guarantee Scotland high levels of state funding and grant Scots greater control over finances.

In a deal brokered by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties said they would retain the funding equation that sustains a higher level of public spending north of the border.

British leaders accept that even if Scotland votes to keep the 307-year union, the United Kingdom’s structure will have to change as the rush to grant so many powers to Scotland will provoke calls for a less centralized state from voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Swathes of voters in the former industrial heartlands of northern England and Wales depend on state welfare spending while some English lawmakers in Cameron’s own party have already asked for England to be given more powers.

Given the fact that the polls have been all over the place in the past several weeks, I’m not sure that we can say with confidence which side has the advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The “Yes” side has certainly had some considerable momentum over the past month or so, but that has been blunted to a large degree by the vigorous efforts by British politicians from all the major parties who have campaigned for the union quite a lot in the past two weeks. Additionally, the concessions that Parliament is apparently willing to grant Scotland if they do stay in the Union may be having an impact on voter sentiment, especially since the arguments in favor of independence seem to be based mostly on emotionalism and nationalism while opponents have spent considerable time pointing out the serious economic risks that Scotland would be taking if it decided to separate itself from the Union, not to mention the question of whether the new nation would be able attain membership in international organizations like NATO and the EU. An additional factor that may he helping the pro-union side is the fact that the Royal Family finally decided to weigh in on the issue after being silent most of the summer; first, Prince Harry and then Queen Elizabeth herself. Whether or not their statements will have an impact on the vote is unclear, but they likely came as a relief to union supporters.

Many have compared the possible breakup of the United Kingdom to the decision that the Czechs and Slovaks made after the end of the Cold War to go their separate ways, but it strikes me that there are several significant differences. For one thing, Czechoslovakia had existed as a united nation for some eighty years before the break-up came whereas Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for some 300 years while the crowns of the two nations have been united since James II took the throne in 1607. Breaking up a nation that has only been around for 80 years is far different from rewriting the boundaries of a nation that has been around for three centuries and which, in its present form, was once the most powerful nation in the world and has remained influential in world affairs even after losing much of that former glory. Some have feared that letting Scotland go would mean the further dissolution of what would be left of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland and Wales would seek more autonomy for themselves. Additionally, the events in Scotland are being watched by others in Europe, especially the Catalans in Spain. A successful independence referendum could lead to pressures in that nation and elsewhere that would redraw the borders of Europe significantly. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it would be incredibly disruptive at a time when there are challenges from Russia and ISIS to be dealt with. Secondly, while Slovakia has managed to become a somewhat successful economy, it’s not at all clear that the same would be true of Scotland. This is especially true given that its most important source of revenue, the oil in the North Sea, may not be around for very long. By some estimates, Scotland would become one of the poorest nations in Europe, and given the current state of the Eurozone, it’s not at all clear that the rest of Europe would want to take on another sick country.

In the end, of course, the issue is up to the Scots. If I had to guess, I would  say that the “No” side wins, but that the vote will be quite close. What that would bode for the future of the United Kingdom is unclear.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. John H says:

    It would be a risky move for questionable benefits, but at least they have the “Freeeeeeddooooommmm!” to make the choice.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    I saw a story yesterday that the Shetland Islands are threatening to secede from Scotland if Scotland secedes from the UK. The Shetlands could claim most of the oil.

    That’s kind of the problem with secession, where does it stop? W VA seceded from VA. Eastern TN would have seceded, if there hadn’t been a Confederate army in place. There were the “state of Jones” and several other areas in which Confederate writ could not be enforced. There is no way to slice the pie so that someone can’t come up with a way to feel slighted.

    There’s an entertaining and convincing book How the Scots Invented the Modern World. Describes union with Great Britain as the best thing that ever happened to Scotland. They hated the taxes, but protection by the British Army and Royal Navy were nice, as were the roads the Crown built.

  3. Steve Hynd says:

    Standard and Poors says Scotland would be an investment-grade sovereign credit’ due to its ‘wealthy’ economy. http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/independent-scotland-could-be-aaa-rated-standard-poors/

  4. gVOR08 says:


    What have the Romans Brits ever given us?

  5. Excellent post however I was wondering if you could write
    a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you
    could elaborate a little bit further. Many thanks!

  6. Steve Hynd says:

    gVORo8, that was someone being taken in by an old April’s Fool story. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/endless-rabbit-hole-secession-shetland-islands-edition

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Steve Hynd: Whoops. Thank you. Missed the update. And insufficiently critical. Not sure the moral doesn’t still stand. I’m pretty sure W Va really did secede.

  8. Eric Florack says:

    a freind of mine, of Scottish decent, writes this morning…

    It’s amazing how many U.S. newspapers and TV news programs have taken up
    the story of the Scottish Referendum taking place on Thursday, a vote in
    the affirmative likely to remove Scotland from the United Kingdom after
    307 years. This morning’s San Angelo Standard-Times has an opinion piece
    suggesting that the “better together” slogan in Scotland might be the
    better choice. How much time any of these American news outlets have
    actually put into that vote of tomorrow is not known, but nearly
    unanimous in their opinion that England and Scotland ought to stick
    together, that both might well lose in the long run if Scotland votes
    “yes” on Thursday.

    I told him….

    They are against Scotland leaving the UK because it creates another hurdle to their ultimate goal… one government for the world.  else, and at the very least, they cannot fathom anyone not wanting to be under one big government.

    Meanwhile, the story has captured a lot of world attention because people want to believe that an overbearing, grasping bloated all powerful government and be removed. In terms of fighting government, the Scots are the only game in town, at the moment.

    BUT I wonder, given the intense interest stateside,  does this interest translate into fighting an overbearing grasping bloated government here at the next opportunity?

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Eric Florack: Y’know, I sort of wish that the YES vote wins tomorrow. If only to hear all the squawking and complaining when people discover that all the pie-in-the-sky fantasies promised them by the YES side don’t necessarily hold:

    Hh, of COURSE we can use the Pound! (yeah, and England can now run its financial policy totally ignoring anything north of the border no matter if your country slides towards looking like Greece.)
    Oh, of COURSE we’ll be automatically accepted into the EU benefiting from all the bells-and-whistles the UK benefits from! (No, you can’t. You’re going to have to apply and go through the entire standard process from the beginning. And if you don’t think that Spain is going to bloody insist on this you’re smoking something.)
    Oh, of COURSE we’re going to be able to shed completely our chunk of UK national debt without anyone complaining! (Fat chance.)

    Not that I’m saying the NO side has been putting their side forth very well…..this might be the very first case in history where a secession movement succeeds because of absent-mindedness of the ruling government.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Eric Florack: What examples do you have of Scots saying this is how they view it?

  11. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll make a prediction: 55/45 for staying in the Union. I think the emotions will fade a bit in the voting booth and the Scots will vote with their heads.

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @Eric Florack:

    They are against Scotland leaving the UK because it creates another hurdle to their ultimate goal… one government for the world.

    So let me be clear on this…you are bragging that you actually think something so f’ing delusional?

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Eric Florack:

    They are against Scotland leaving the UK because it creates another hurdle to their ultimate goal… one government for the world. else, and at the very least, they cannot fathom anyone not wanting to be under one big government.

    Let me give a response as thoughtful as this passage.


  14. Mikey says:

    I just read there’s a strong possibility the price of Scotch whisky will skyrocket if Scotland secedes. This has pushed me from “IDGAF” to “strongly against secession.”

  15. michael reynolds says:


    This is very distressing news. I think we’d both better drink all we can, while we can. I see no other way.

  16. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “I think we’d both better drink all we can, while we can. I see no other way.”

    Isn’t that your reaction to nearly any news? 😉

  17. Mikey says:


    Isn’t that your reaction to nearly any news?

    Well, of course, what better way is there? 🙂

  18. rudderpedals says:

    It’s always after 6PM somewhere in the world

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Steve Hynd: Actually, if you check, it does look like the MP from the Shetland Islands is making noises about Shetland going its own way (perhaps sticking with England.) It’s not just an April Fool’s joke.

    (the cream of the joke is that a sizeable chunk of the North Sea oil could be claimed by the Shetland Islands. Remember what I said about why the Quebec Separatists never managed to pull it off?)

  20. stonetools says:

    Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,

    Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;

    Welcome to your gory bed,

    Or to victory!

    Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;

    See the front o’ battle lour;

    See approach proud Edward’s power—

    Chains and slavery!

    Wha will be a traitor knave?

    Wha can fill a coward’s grave!

    Wha sae base as be a slave?

    Let him turn and flee!

    Wha for Scotland’s king and law

    Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,

    Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,

    Let him follow me!

    By oppression’s woes and pains!

    By your sons in servile chains!

    We will drain our dearest veins,

    But they shall be free!

    Lay the proud usurpers low!

    Tyrants fall in every foe!

    Liberty’s in every blow!—

    Let us do or die!

    Now that’s a battle cry for freedom. Wish the Scots all the best, however it turns out.