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Scots warm to the power of Yes

Reuters | Thursday, Sep 11, 2014

A design commemorating Scottish hero Robert the Bruce is seen on the gates of a meeting point for the Flodden Border Relay in Kelso, southern Scotland in this September 5, 2013 file photo.

GLASGOW Scotland - In late August, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling shared the stage as part of the push to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

The two Scotsmen, Britain's prime minister and finance minister between 2007 and 2010, often fought each other in office. Darling once described his old boss as "brutal and volcanic." Brown reportedly wanted to sack Darling during the financial crisis.

But now here was Brown waxing lyrical about Darling, who heads the "Better Together" campaign that is trying to convince Scots to reject independence.

"It's his expertise and integrity and strength of purpose that is winning this argument," Brown told the crowd of a few hundred in a meeting hall in the coastal city of Dundee.

"Rubbish!" a heckler in the back of the room shouted. "Absolute rubbish!" The heckler continued to shout criticism of Brown's Labour government and its policies before officials removed him.

The incident captures a lot about the Scottish independence debate: the passion and even anger of secessionists; the difficulty unionists have in making their argument; even the strange political alliances that have formed, especially as the unionists have grown more desperate.

A week before the referendum on Sept. 18, momentum is with those who want change.

A Sept. 7 poll for YouGov showed support for independence in the lead - 51 per cent to 49. Thanks to the Yes campaign's savvier ground game, the gap between the two sides has tightened dramatically in the past few weeks, down from an average of well over 10 points for most of the year until August. With pollsters expecting up to 80 per cent of all Scottish voters to have a say in the referendum - in a general election typically only around 60 per cent of Scots vote - the outcome is almost impossible to predict.

For Scots nationalists, a vote for full statehood for the first time since 1707 would be the realisation of what seemed like an improbable dream, one they have worked towards for decades.

For the rest of Britain, a "yes" vote would mean profound change. Scotland, with its $250-billion economy, 5.3 million people, oil industry, and nuclear submarine base, would split away, leaving what's left of Britain with a $2.25 trillion economy and 58.8 million people.

That would mark an ignominious end for a geopolitical construct that has, in different forms, spanned the heyday of the British Empire, the US war of independence, and two world wars. It would hurt Prime Minister David Cameron, who would surely come under pressure to quit as the man who lost Scotland, but would also hurt the opposition Labour Party because the loss of Scotland would leave what remains of Britain more politically conservative. That could make it more likely that Britain pulls out of the European Union.

"Together, we get a seat at the UN Security Council, real clout in NATO and Europe, and the prestige to host events like the G8," Cameron said a few weeks ago. "If we lost Scotland, if the UK changed, we would rip the rug from under our own reputation."

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