Alex Salmond will attempt to achieve decisive momentum in the battle over Scottish independence in tomorrow’s televised clash with the former Chancellor Alistair Darling.
Fresh polls suggest the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow has so far failed to produce a bounce in support for independence.
Hostilities had been put on partial hold during the Games, but will resume tomorrow with attention focusing on the two-hour debate with Mr Darling.
One million Scots are expected to tune into the programme, which is being broadcast by STV from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
The Yes camp knows that Mr Salmond needs to score a convincing victory to help trigger a surge of support in favour of independence.
They insist the charismatic First Minister is capable of trouncing Mr Darling, with Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, claiming the “slaughter will be worse than the Bannockburn re-enactment”.
However, supporters of the Better Together campaign believe Mr Darling’s style will be more suited to the issue they are debating.
A Survation poll put the Yes vote on 40 per cent, the No Vote on 46 per cent, with the remainder undecided.
When undecided voters are removed, the survey put support for staying in the UK at 53 per cent, with 47 per cent backing separation.
It also found that only 12 per cent of people said Glasgow 2014 had made them more inclined to vote Yes – and four-fifths of them were already planning to vote for independence.
More than 80 per cent said the Games had made no difference to their vote, while 7 per cent said it would make them more inclined to oppose independence.
However, in an interview today, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, insisted the Games would “inevitably leave a feelgood factor”.
She said: “I think confidence, not only in Glasgow but across the country, is high. I think there is a very significant momentum behind the Yes campaign and I feel it everywhere I go in the country.
“The momentum is with us and as we come out of the Commonwealth Games at the weekend that is us into the final strait of the campaign and that momentum will be visible.”
Her comments brought a scathing rebuke from the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who accused the SNP of “distorting and sullying” a festival of sport.
He said during a visit to Edinburgh: “I never for one minute thought that sport, and the fact that everyone can enjoy watching Commonwealth sport, was suddenly going to influence how people vote on the future of Scotland – whether it remains in the UK or not.
“I think it was very misplaced and gauche of Nicola Sturgeon to try and extract political advantage from the Commonwealth Games.”
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon countered that there was no truth to Mr Clegg’s “silly accusation” and said he deserved a gold medal for hypocrisy as the No campaign “tried shamelessly to politicise the Olympics”.
Meanwhile, the Better Together campaign stepped up its efforts to argue a vote for independence will cost jobs.
It pointed to comments by Kevin Hague, the chief executive of the Livingston-based M8 Group – which runs garden furniture and pet food websites and employs 80 people – who said that being in a single UK market was essential for his business.
He said he had advised his staff that the firm would “have to reconsider where our warehouse is based” and could have to move to England.