Emotions mount on final day of Scottish campaign

2014-09-17 16:51
A pro-independence poster is pictured on the door of a property in the town of Selkirk on the Scottish side of the border between England and Scotland. (Lesley Martin, AFP)

A pro-independence poster is pictured on the door of a property in the town of Selkirk on the Scottish side of the border between England and Scotland. (Lesley Martin, AFP)

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Edinburgh - Will the ayes have it, or will Scotland say naw thanks?

No one is certain. Excitement and anxiety mounted across the country on Wednesday, the final day of campaigning before Thursday's referendum on independence.

With opinion polls suggesting the result is too close to call and turnout expected to reach record levels, supporters of separation feel they are within touching distance of victory - but wonder whether their surge in the polls will be enough.

Scottish voters who want to stay in the United Kingdom along with Britain, Wales and Northern Ireland fear the nation they live in may soon cease to exist.

The battle for Scotland has all the trappings of a normal election campaign: "Yes Scotland" and "No, Thanks" posters in windows, buttons on jackets, leaflets on street corners and megaphone-topped campaign cars cruising the streets.

But it is, both sides acknowledge, a once-in-a-generation - maybe once-in-a-lifetime - choice that could redraw the map of the United Kingdom.

The gravity of the imminent decision was hitting home for many voters as political leaders made passionate, final pleas for their sides. More than 4.2 million people are registered to vote, 97% of the eligible electorate.

Cathy Chance, who works for Britain's National Health Service in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, said she would leave Scotland if it becomes independent.

"I don't want to live under a nation that's nationalistic," she said. "I don't think the world needs another political barrier."

Roisin McLaren, a Yes campaigner, said she was finally letting herself believe independence might be possible.

"My family has campaigned for independence for a long, long time, and it's always been a pipe dream," the Edinburgh University student said as she knocked on doors in a last-minute effort to convert wavering electors. "Just in the last few days it's seemed possible, within reach. I can almost taste it."

Politicians on both sides expressed confidence in the Scottish public, but uncertainty rippled below the surface.

Opinion polls

Opinion polls have failed to put either side decisively ahead. Bookmakers, however, tell a different story, offering odds of about 3-1 on a Yes victory and much shorter odds on a No triumph. One firm, Betfair, has already paid out on a No win, and bookmaker William Hill slashed its odds on a No triumph three times on Wednesday, to 2-11.

Alistair Darling, who leads the anti-independence "Better Together" campaign, said if voters had doubts about independence "be in no doubt you have to say 'No'."

"If we vote to leave, there is no going back," he said.

But "Yes Scotland" campaign chairperson Dennis Canavan told voters: "Let's go for it."

Amid the uncertainty, even the opinionated Rupert Murdoch is hedging his bets. The media mogul, whose newspapers were long considered a powerful force in British elections, travelled to Scotland last week and wrote a series of tweets that seemed supportive of independence.

But on Wednesday his Scottish tabloid newspaper said it would not endorse either side. It ran opinion columns by Yes and No leaders and told Scots: "The Scottish Sun has faith in you to make the right choice."

A Yes vote will trigger months of negotiations between Scotland and the British government over the messy details of independence, which Scottish authorities say will take effect on 24 March 2016, the anniversary of the date in 1707 that Scotland decided to unite with Britain.

In Edinburgh, an unscientific but popular sweet-toothed survey has backed pollsters' predictions that the result will be close. For 200 days, the city's Cuckoo Bakery has sold referendum cupcakes - vanilla sponge with a center of raspberry jam, topped with white chocolate icing - in three versions, adorned with a Scottish Saltire, a British Union Jack or a question mark.

On Wednesday, the bakery announced the result of its cupcake referendum: 47.7% No, 43.5% Yes, and 8.8% undecided.

Co-owner Vidya Sarjoo said the number of undecideds had plummeted over time.

"At first people really weren't sure - a bit scared, maybe, to make their decision," she said.

The cupcakes, she stressed, "are all exactly the same flavor. And they all taste delicious."

Read more on:    scotland

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