The papers: 'Ten days to save the UK'

  • 8 September 2014

One topic absolutely dominates Monday's newspapers - the run-up to Scotland's independence referendum, after a weekend poll put the "Yes" to independence campaign two percentage points ahead of their Better Together adversaries.

Unsurprisingly, the news has the London-based national press worried, with the Independent's "Ten days to save the United Kingdom" setting the tone for a crop of Fleet Street headlines.

North of the border, meanwhile, the Scottish papers are focusing on what they see as the "panic" engendered by the poll inside the Better Together campaign.

The YouGov poll result gave the "Yes" camp so narrow a lead that, the paper explains, the outcome falls within the normal "polling error", which means in practice the real outcome could go either way and "Scotland appears to be heading for a knife-edge result on 18 September".

The paper quotes the former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, a prominent "No" to independence campaigner, as saying the poll and others like it should "shake the complacency" out of the Better Together campaign.

"It is clear now that every vote is going to count. This isn't a protest vote, it's a permanent choice about our country's future."

The Financial Times - while headlining that the pro-union camp is "in chaos" - says it is too early to write an obituary for the UK.

"The growing prospect of a break-up of the Union should galvanise supporters," the paper says.

Image caption Quebec voted to stay within Canada in a referendum held there in 1995

The Guardian says it has been told the package of measures promising Scotland more devolution should it stay within the UK - the so-called Devo Max option - has long been planned.

It notes a similar approach in Canada turned support for Quebec independence, to a narrow vote to stay with majority English-speaking provinces, in the 1995 referendum there.

The Daily Telegraph says the SNP's private polling - as tweeted about by Rupert Murdoch - suggests the "Yes" camp holding an eight percentage point lead.

The paper's Scotland editor Alan Cochrane says "scare stories" about an increasing privatisation of the NHS are one of the principal reasons for the "Yes" campiagn's success.

Cochrane says this notion is a "monstrous calumny" peddled by Alex Salmond, as health policy lies within the remit of his devolved administration.

The Times analyses the reasons for the swing towards independence, noting that Labour voters aged under 50 are the key voters who have switched allegiances.

"The focus on Labour leaves Mr Cameron reliant on Mr Miliband to appeal to the party's heartland supporters," the paper notes.


'Milk and honey'

The economic implications of separation are examined in depth.

The Daily Mail says the pro-independence polls could "rock" the stock markets, with uncertainty already pushing sterling 0.5% lower against the dollar - to a five-month low.

The paper notes a number of firms with a large presence in Scotland could also suffer stock market falls, including Diageo, Standard Life, GlaxoSmithKline and BP.

Image caption The amount of oil left in Scottish waters has been a highly politicised matter of debate in the referendum campaign

Larry Elliott in the Guardian argues that a post-independence Scotland would not face collapse.

"Countries much poorer than Scotland have thrived after independence," he says, "but it would not be a land flowing with milk and honey either."

Elliott argues that the currency union with the remaining UK wanted by the SNP is an "independence lite" option, meaning continued austerity and the Bank of England control over interest rates.

He quotes Gordon Brown who has written: "It has now become clear that the one power that the nationalists have always demanded - full control over the economy - is now one the Scottish government says it doesn't want."

The Independent's comment column agrees with this assessment.

It says that an independent Scotland still in currency union with London would replicate the flaws of the eurozone.

"Salmond is inviting Scots to put themselves in the same beggarly relationship with England as Greece and Portugal are to Germany," it says.

The paper says Mr Salmond is "plausible" when he argues that "no one will run the affairs [of Scotland] better than the people who live in Scotland".

However, it says this claim could be made for the other regions of the UK and the independence debate should mark a "historic crossroads" where the constitution of the UK is examined and the Act of Union is replaced by "a declaration of federalism".

Two tables in the Times highlight the differing claims between the "Yes" camp and the UK government.

They show the "Yes" campaigners saying there are £1.5tn worth of reserves of North Sea oil, compared with the Office of National Statistics figure of £0.12tn. The "Yes" campaign say it will cost £250m to set up an independent state, but the Treasury says this will be nearer £1.5bn.


Traditional holiday

One person whose opinions on Scottish independence are explored in most papers is the Queen.

The Daily Mirror's striking front shows the monarch under the banner headlines "don't let me be last Queen of Scotland".

While there is no evidence that those are the Queen's thoughts, the paper quotes a "palace insider" who says: "The Queen is a unionist - there is now a great deal of concern."

"If there is a 'Yes' vote that puts us in uncharted territory constitutionally. Nothing is certain and her being Queen of Scotland is not a given."

Palace aides have publically emphasised that the Queen is "strictly neutral" on the issue, the paper adds.

The Sun says the Queen is "horrified" at the prospect of the Union dissolving, and she is receiving daily updates on events "because she is so troubled".

The Daily Mail notes that there are calls within the SNP for a post-independence referendum on whether to become a republic after the Queen steps down or dies.

The party's official line is that the monarch will remain head of state of Scotland.

The Mail notes that the Queen will continue with her traditional holiday at Balmoral, which this year is set to begin on 18 September - the day of the referendum.


'Dog-eared white paper'

As might be expected, there are not many national newspaper pundits arguing for independence, but a plethora advancing the Better Together argument.

Boris Johnson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says "the Scots are on the verge of an act of self-mutilation that will trash our global identity".

He compares the loss of Scotland to the Union to the loss of America in 1776, but says "it is far worse than that".

"Scotland isn't a colony... it's part of our being, of what makes us 'us'.

"This vote isn't just about saying 'yes' to Scotland... under any circumstances, Scotland will exist and be prosperous... people will wave blue and white Scottish flags and take pride in their nation and its success.

"Alex Salmond and his crew aren't really asking people to say 'yes' to Scotland's success; they are asking them to say 'no' to one of the oldest and most successful political unions in history."

Melanie Phillips in the Times says she has "some sympathy for the Yes camp".

"Whatever you think of Alex Salmond and his cynical, even xenophobic, opportunism in promising benefits he cannot possibly deliver, what he stands for is a story defined by a specific history, literature, language and outlook on life.

"Better Together by contrast, is trying to persuade [Scots] to remain in a project that is in steady process of willed disintegration."

However she says "a sense of common purpose will not be enough to make an independent Scotland thrive and prosper."

Former defence secretary George Robertson, writing in the Financial Times, says those supporting separatism "dare to imagine" that the dissolving of the Union will be "an amicable divorce".

Mr Robertson posits: "What if Scotland , whoever does the negotiations, does not win the deal the nationalists have promised - a currency union, easy entry into the EU and Nato, oil funds, an amicable share of UK assets, a warm welcome on the world stage? Then what?"

"No further referendum is planned. No more tests of the Scottish people's 'sovereign will'.

"Just a dog-eared white paper, Scotland's Future, whose 670 pages made no mention of the risks or downsides; a divided and disillusioned people; and an embittered close neighbour."

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