With two days of fevered campaigning left before Scotland votes in a referendum on independence, the leaders of the three main British political parties renewed a pledge on Tuesday to grant Scots “extensive new powers” if they reject secession.
The pledge, in a letter published in The Daily Record newspaper in Scotland, came a day after Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain offered Scots a different message, telling them that if they vote for independence on Thursday “there’s no going back from this, no rerun.”
“If Scotland votes yes, the U.K. will split, and we will go our separate ways forever,” he told an audience of Scottish supporters of his Conservative Party. “Independence would not be a trial separation, it would be a painful divorce.”
The combination of threat and promise reflected the deepening concerns among the political elite in London at what pro-independence campaigners call the gathering momentum of their efforts to withdraw from the 307-year-old union.
Opinion polls in the final days have shown the gap between the two camps narrowing dramatically, eroding the early lead taken by Scots who favor remaining in the United Kingdom along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The latest polls suggest that the outcome is now too close to call.
One survey earlier this month put the “yes” campaign, led by Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, slightly ahead for the first time, prompting the political elite in London to promise to endow Scotland with greater powers if voters say no to independence.
In their letter on Tuesday, Mr. Cameron, along with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, who is leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, promised “extensive new powers” for the existing Scottish Parliament on a timetable beginning the day after the referendum.
They also pledged that the Scottish Parliament would determine Scotland’s spending on the publicly financed National Health Service. But the letter, designed to assure Scots that political leaders in London would not renege on their promises of greater autonomy for Scotland, did not go into detail.
The Press Association news agency quoted a spokesman for Mr. Salmond’s independence campaign as saying that the three leaders were “willing to say anything in the last few days of the campaign to try to halt the yes momentum — anything except what new powers, if any, they might be willing to offer.”
Mr. Salmond dismissed the promise of new powers, first put forth last week by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “It’s totally inadequate, it’s not enough,” Mr. Salmond said. “It’s nothing approaching the powers that Scotland needs to create jobs, to save the health service and build a better society.”
Pro-independence figures seized on the letter on Tuesday as evidence that the leaders in London had not offered specifics and disagreed in their approach to greater autonomy for Scotland, where Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives are far less popular than Mr. Miliband’s Labourites. Indeed, while the three parties have agreed in principle to accelerate their promise to grant extra power to the Scottish Parliament, they have not yet agreed on the details.
“We don’t know what they are pledging,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s pro-independence deputy first minister. “It’s one thing to say we pledge something will happen, but it is really treating voters in Scotland with a fair degree of contempt not to then say specifically and explicitly what extra powers we’re talking about.”
“David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg disagree between themselves on what extra powers the Scottish Parliament should have,” she said on Tuesday, recalling that, when the idea of a referendum was agreed to in 2012, “these are the same three leaders that fought tooth and nail to keep the option of more powers off the ballot paper.”
“The only way to guarantee the real powers we need in Scotland is to vote yes,” she said.
In negotiations in 2012 on the terms of a referendum, the Scottish authorities pressed for the ballot to offer a choice between two questions: a straight yes or no on independence and an alternative granting greater autonomy and powers to the existing Scottish Parliament and government.
But Mr. Cameron insisted on a single question, calculating that most Scots would oppose a complete break. At that time, opinion surveys showed the no vote leading by a ratio of almost two to one.
Source: The New York Times