Scottish independence: Gordon Brown steps into the breach as Tories duck fight for Union with polls showing referendum on a knife-edge

William Hague will be the only senior Tory to campaign in Scotland this week, as latest poll shows dead heat with nine days to go

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown made a dramatic intervention in the Scottish independence battle last night as he set out moves to rush through new powers to Holyrood if next week’s referendum rejects the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The former Labour Prime Minister was drafted in by his political opponents after a surge in support for separation left the outcome of September 18’s vote too close to call.

The trend was confirmed by a poll published today which produced a dead heat between the Yes and No camps.

The new uncertainty over the result sent the pound plunging and wiped hundreds of millions off the stock market value of major Scottish firms.

Yes Scotland reacted with contempt to Mr Brown’s move, claiming it was fresh evidence of the “utter panic and desperation” within the No camp as it faltered in the polls.


David Cameron and George Osborne came under fire from their own party for their response to the growing doubts over the survival of the United Kingdom.

There was also surprise that there are no plans for  Mr Cameron to hit the campaign trail in Scotland this week despite the enormity of what is at stake. Only William Hague is scheduled to go.

The choice of the former Prime Minister to detail the devolution plans is also a rebuff for Alistair Darling, the head of Better Together, who was mauled by Alex Salmond in a televised debate last month.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown annouces plans that the Scottish Parliament's powers will be boosted if voters reject independence at the Loanhead Miners Welfare and Social Club in Midlothian, Scotland

The fresh uncertainty over the referendum result sent the pound plunging and wiped billions off the stock market value of major Scottish firms.

In a speech last night in Midlothian, Mr Brown disclosed his timetable for the implementation of a “modern form of Scottish Home Rule” following a No vote. It is being also being backed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Under the plan, which was first signalled by Mr Osborne at the weekend, details of fresh devolution of tax and welfare powers would be agreed by late November and legislation drafted next January.

Mr Brown said: “A No vote on 18 September will not be an end point, but the starting gun for action on 19 September, when straight away we will kick off a plan to deliver the enhanced devolution that we want.”

The choice of the former Prime Minister to detail the devolution plans is a rebuff for Alistair Darling, the head of Better Together, who was mauled by Alex Salmond in a televised debate last week.

A Downing Street source said: “The Prime Minister very much welcomes Gordon Brown’s initiative. It reflects the discussions that have been going on within the parties in Scotland.”

But one senior Tory MP spoke of his dismay over his party’s tactics over the last week as the polls narrowed. He The Independent: “Lots of people are saying we should have deferred this offer until after the result. It smacks of panic and plays into the SNP’s hands.”

The discontent in the No camp emerged as the second opinion poll in 48 hours showed it is losing ground while the Yes campaign is gaining support, meaning there is now nothing to divide the two sides with just over a week to go until the vote.

A survey by TNS published today found that 41 per cent of people who said they would definitely vote on 18 September were in favour of independence – with exactly the same proportion in favour of staying in the UK. This represents a three per cent gain for the Yes campaign and a five per cent loss for the No side in the space of a month. When don’t knows are excluded, the two sides are locked on 50 per cent each.

The poll also confirmed that the number of women backing independence appears to be rising, going from 27 per cent to 35 per cent, while female support for No has dropped from 49 per cent to 41 per cent over the same period.

Tom Costley, the head of TNS Scotland, said the poll showed a “remarkable shift in voting intentions” which meant that the result of the referendum was now “too close to call”. According to the research, around 600,000 voters may still not have made up their minds, with 18 per cent saying they remained undecided but intended to vote.

The campaign for Scottish independence dismissed the promises of greater devolution from Westminster. “The No campaign’s empty talk of more powers smacks of utter panic and desperation as they lose their lead in the polls,” said Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland.

“The people of Scotland will not trust the Tories to deliver powers that fall far short of what we need. The sure fire way to achieve the full range of powers Scotland needs to build a fairer society and more prosperous economy is to vote Yes a week on Thursday.”

Lord McConnell, the former Scottish First Minister, said the new powers and timetable offered by Mr Brown may not be enough to prevent a Yes vote and called for the main Westminster parties to promise proper constitutional reform.

Writing in The Independent today, he said: “We also need a promise of change in the way the UK is governed, not just a timetable for more powers at Holyrood. We need a firm commitment by all three UK party leaders to a Constitutional Convention to clean up and reinvigorate our democracy and genuinely decentralise power and energy from London and the South East.”

Meanwhile, the Yes campaign received another boost last night as Rupert Murdoch’s Scottish Sun appeared on the brink of declaring its support for independence. Andrew Neil, one of the Australian media tycoon’s former editors at the Sunday Times, claimed: “He’s very close to putting the [Scottish] Sun behind Salmond and Yes.”

Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would be a "devastating blow" to Western solidarity at a crucial moment, according to a former Secretary General of Nato. Lord Robertson said a Yes vote would impact on international security as he joined Labour MP Jim Murphy in Edinburgh to campaign against independence.