The leaders of the three main Westminster parties are today making a last minute trip to Scotland as the fight to keep the United Kingdom together intensifies in the run up to next week’s independence referendum.
David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg will all head north on separate visits in a bid to persuade Scots to vote No to independence, offering instead a fast-tracked timetable for further devolution.
But Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the “panicked” visit would only serve to galvanise support for a Yes vote on September 18.
With momentum apparently gathering behind the pro-independence campaign, the unionist parties have been revising their plans for more powers to be handed to Holyrood in the event of a No vote.
In a dramatic move yesterday the Prime Minister and Labour leader announced they would not be taking part in their weekly exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, saying instead they would be heading to Scotland, where they will be ” ‘listening and talking to voters” about the choice they face next week.
The Deputy Prime Minister will also be on the campaign trail in Scotland, as polls increasing suggest the contest is too close to call.
Mr Salmond instantly dismissed the move as a sign of the “disarray” in the pro-union campaign.
He said today: ” I relish David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg coming to Scotland – collectively, they are the least trusted Westminster leaders ever, and this day-trip will galvanise the Yes vote. No-one believes their panicked pledges – it is a phoney timetable for measly powers. A Yes vote delivers a real timetable for the full powers that Scotland needs.
“More and more people in Scotland are waking up to the fact only with the powers of independence can we secure real job creating powers and ensure that our National Health Service is fully protected.”
He spoke out as the Yes campaign published a new advert, which claimed that “Labour and Tory politicians are cosying up together to make up phoney timetables for a few, very few, powers for Scotland”.
More business leaders have also come out in favour of leaving the UK, with 100 putting their names to another newspaper advert taken out by the group Business for Scotland.
Mr Salmond said: “I’m delighted more businessmen and women have today announced they are backing Scottish independence.
“They understand that only with the full range of economic powers available to us can we create new jobs and generate more investment.
“Now that David Cameron is paying a panicked visit to Scotland, it is high time he found the courage of his convictions and agreed to debate the issues with me. The No side have lost their poll lead, and people are switching directly over to Yes – if David Cameron thinks he is the answer to the No campaign’s disintegration disarray, let him put his case to the test in a head-to-head debate.”
Mr Cameron has already given his backing to a timetable for transferring more powers that was outlined by his predecessor in Number 10, Labour’s Gordon Brown.
This could see work towards this begin next Friday, the day after the referendum, if there is a No vote, while draft legislation could be drawn up by January.
In an article for the Daily Mail, the Prime Minister argued a “brighter future for Scotland rests not only on staying in the UK, but also on having significant new powers” adding that the new timetable would give Scots the ” clarity” they need when considering which way to vote.
Mr Cameron said: “With this timetable, we are giving people that clarity, showing that by voting No, Scotland gets the best of both worlds: power over the policies that matter, and the stability of the United Kingdom; the freedom to chart its own destiny, and the support of three other nations; the reputation in the world as a successful nation, and the clout of a world-renowned union.
“But where we offer clarity, those who support separation offer only question marks. Just eight days away from the referendum, they are still unclear on what money Scotland could use without the pound sterling. The plan for Scotland to enter the EU is a blank page. The formula for filling the public services funding deficit is a blank space.
“While a Yes vote may be a lucky dip, a No vote is a guaranteed win for anyone who wants a stronger, more autonomous Scotland.”
The Prime Minister added: ” T he United Kingdom is a precious and special country. That is what is at stake. So let no-one in Scotland be in any doubt: we desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart.”