The once-unthinkable prospect that Britain could be ripped apart this month with a vote for Scottish independence became bracingly real Monday after the campaign to keep the three-century-old union together was accused of panicking amid polls showing the referendum in a dead heat. Just 10 days before the vote, the new surveys depicted a dramatically tightening race after months in which the “no” side appeared to hold a comfortable lead. Although both sides have questioned the accuracy of the Internet-based polls, the pro-independence camp immediately claimed the momentum. Unionists, meanwhile, scrambled to agree on a plan for shifting power away from London and giving it to the Scottish government if the Scots choose to stay, with former prime minister Gordon Brown saying his Labor party would move aggressively to do just that. But it was unclear whether the other major parties agreed with Labor’s plan, and the unionists were forced to spend Monday fending off accusations that they were desperate to stop a slide toward “yes.”
“They had become so overconfident. They never expected to be in this position,” said Iain Docherty, a public policy professor at the University of Glasgow. “So they’re improvising, and they may make things worse for themselves.”
Better Together supporters, who oppose the separation of Scotland, have been actively campaigning. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)
Docherty said the unionists’ moves in the coming days are likely to be a “make-or-break moment” for the future of Scotland — and for the United Kingdom.
The potential consequences of the Sept. 18 vote are vast for a nation that could be hard-pressed to continue to call itself Britain if a third of its land mass disappears beyond a foreign border. Britain’s military, economy and politics could be reshaped with the vote — as could its image as a world power, even if that status has been long in decline.