Now's the day, now's the hour

Polls predict a Home Rule win
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The Independent Online
Scotland stands poised to take it destiny in its own hands today and vote for Home Rule. The flippant remark 290 years ago by the Earl of Seafield as the Union ended Scotland's last parliament, that "there's an end to an auld sang" is about to be confounded.

Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, was yesterday sufficiently confident of victory to stand with his temporary allies, the SNP and Liberal Democrats and cut a "Double Yes" cake.

The "wedding cake" gesture and the atmosphere of the final appearance by the Scottish party leaders after a 100-hour campaign blitz was almost triumphalist. Glowing endorsements in the Scottish press and favourable opinion polls had all-but erased jitters about securing a clear mandate for a Parliament in today's referendum.

Mr Dewar was still warning against complacency causing a low turnout. "The terrible tragedy would be if people were to wake up on Friday morning and find that someone had stolen their `jeely piece' [jam sandwich]," he said. But disinterest among the electorate, rather than any impact by the "No" campaigners seemed Mr Dewar's only real worry.

The Tory-dominated Think Twice campaign all but conceded defeat in an ill-tempered final press conference. Its chairman, Donald Findlay, accused the Scottish media of waging "propaganda war" on behalf of the pro-devolutionists. Reporting of the campaign had been a disgrace, he said.

The former Tory minister Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the only politician of note to take an active role in Think Twice, sounded equally bitter, protesting at the "intolerance" of the Home Rule parties, particularly the Labour Party. The way figures such as Sir Bruce Pattullo, Governor of the Bank of Scotland, had been excluded from the debate should make people think twice about the new style of democracy being offered, Lord Fraser suggested.

Sir Bruce was the most prominent member of the financial community to voice fears about the effect of devolution on Scotland's economy. However, the "No" campaigners appear to have made little headway, even over the possibility of tax increases for Scots - the area regarded as the Achilles' heel of the referendum.

An ICM poll for the Scotsman yesterday showed 48 per cent of voters believed the Parliament should have tax varying powers, compared with 40 per cent against, hardly a ringing endorsement but not greatly different to before the campaign began. Support for the Parliament itself is running at comfortable three-to-one in favour.

Tony Blair urged Scots to "go for it" and take responsibility for their own affairs. During the 100-hour campaign - truncated by the week of mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales - Mr Blair has concentrated on instilling confidence into the Scots to take charge of their own affairs.

"To trust themselves. To have confidence in their future and vote for a new and modern settlement for Scotland that allows the Scottish people to take decisions closer to them, closer to their own priorities.

"They know they have got the assurance from the Labour Party on the tax- varying powers for Scotland that we will not raise income tax for five years," the Prime Minister said.

Extraordinarily, Scots in radio phone-ins and vox pops have been doubting whether 129 politicians of good calibre could be found to fill the Edinburgh Parliament. But the message from the Prime Minister and Mr Dewar for Scots to trust themselves has taken root.

Mr Dewar, who may well be not just the John the Baptist of the Scottish Parliament but become its First Minister, portrayed the coalition for Home Rule as part of the new style of politics he hopes emerge in Edinburgh.

"What is on offer is direct democratic control over a large area of Scotland's domestic affairs ... that is a great improvement on what is at the moment a rather shop-soiled state of affairs," he said.

Cutting the cake with Mr Dewar was Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, clearly delighted that what he regards as the first step to independence is about to be taken, and Jim Wallace, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The Treasury would, reportedly, shed few tears if there was a "No" vote on tax powers. If it was combined with a low overall turnout, there would be pressure on the Government to rethink the whole devolution exercise.

However, that looks unlikely to be the outcome and Scots are set to seize their new destiny 700 years to the day after William "Braveheart" Wallace defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.