The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls towards a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powers for Scotland if it chooses to stay within the United Kingdom.
British finance minister George Osborne said on Sunday that plans would be set out in the coming days to give Scotland more autonomy on tax, spending and welfare if Scots vote against independence in a historic referendum on September 18.
Prime Minister David Cameron had, ironically, vetoed a third ballot option for greater devolution, betting that the stark choice of yes or no to independence would deliver a clear victory for the status quo as cautious voters turned away from an uncertain future.
That looked like a precarious calculation after a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed supporters of independence had taken their first opinion poll lead since the referendum campaign began.
With less than two weeks to go before the vote, the poll put the “Yes” to independence campaign on 51% and the “No” camp on 49%, overturning a 22-point lead for the unionist position in just a month.
“You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland ... Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds. They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be,” Osborne told the BBC.
“More tax-raising powers, much greater fiscal autonomy ... more control over public expenditure, more control over welfare rates and a host of other changes.”
Scotland already enjoys a large measure of devolution, having had its own parliament since 1999 with the power to legislate in policy areas such as education, health, the environment, housing and justice.