British leaders defend 'family of nations' in Scotland
Prime Minister David Cameron urged Scottish voters on Wednesday not to rip apart a "family of nations" as he joined British party leaders in Scotland to try to head off surging support for a split.
In what Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond derided as a panicked move, Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband skipped their weekly parliamentary debate in London to hit the campaign trail north of the border.
There are only eight days to go before Scotland votes on whether to end the 300-year-old union, and recent polls suggest the two sides of the debate are neck-and-neck.
"I would be heartbroken if this family of nations that we've put together and that we've done such amazing things together, if this family of nations was torn apart," Cameron said in a speech in Edinburgh, adding that he wanted to speak from the heart about an "extraordinary" united country.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, was also in Scotland on Wednesday as the pro-union camp pulled out all the stops.
Barely a month ago, there seemed little likelihood of victory for the "Yes" camp but two polls since the weekend put it either ahead or in a dead heat with the "No" camp.
The three main British parties have promised to hand more powers to the devolved Scottish government, insisting that a "No" vote next week would still be a vote for change.
They set out a timetable this week to make good on promises to deliver more control over income tax and welfare spending, pledging to publish new legislation by January.
"It really will be the best of both worlds," Cameron told the event in Edinburgh, that was closed to the public.
But Salmond has dismissed the initiative as a smokescreen and said the arrival of the three London leaders reeked of desperation.
"What we're seeing today on the other side is Team Westminster jetting up to Scotland for the day because they're panicking in the campaign," he said.
- 'Saving Westminster jobs' -
Cameron's urgent trip north follows a weekend poll putting the "Yes" camp two points ahead, and another on Tuesday showing both sides evenly split on 41 percent.
Aside from his personal commitment to the UK, the premier is under intense pressure from his Conservative party to secure a "No" vote, and his job could be on the line if he fails.
But there is no guarantee that the visit will help the unionist camp because the Tories are deeply unpopular in parts of Scotland.
"Their visit will backfire," said Michael Granados, an SNP campaigner attending a rally with Salmond in Edinburgh.
"Every time Westminster gets involved in this campaign, the vote swings more and more to the 'Yes' side."
Salmond was in confident mood as he posed for pictures under the slogan "Team Scotland", a bid to prove that next week's referendum is not about the SNP but a broad-based coalition pushing for independence from London.
- 'Desperately concerned' -
The narrowing of the polls has prompted former British prime ministers Gordon Brown and John Major to intervene, offering emotional pleas for Scotland to stay in the UK.
Brown, who lost power to Cameron in 2010, began a week-long tour of his native Scotland on Monday, while Major entered the fray on Wednesday with a warning that independence would be "disastrous" for the UK.
"I am desperately concerned at what is happening. We would be immensely weaker as a nation in every respect - morally, politically, in every material aspect -- if Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom were to part company," he said.
Meanwhile Buckingham Palace made clear that Queen Elizabeth II would not be intervening after media reports that she was privately "horrified" by the narrowing polls prompted calls for a royal statement against independence.
"The sovereign's constitutional impartiality is an established principle of our democracy and one which the queen has demonstrated throughout her reign," a spokesman said.
He added: "Her Majesty is simply of the view this is a matter for the people of Scotland."
The rapidly changing political landscape has spooked investors, and the pound on Wednesday was still struggling after hitting a 10-month low against the dollar on Monday.
Uncertainty remains about what currency an independent Scotland would use, its place in the European Union, the shape and role of its monetary system and the future of its financial services.
© 2014 AFP