GLASGOW Scotland (Reuters) - Thousands of independence supporters took to the streets of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, on Sunday as polls showed the rival camps running desperately close just five days before a referendum which could bring the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Separatist and unionist leaders worked across the country to woo undecided voters among the four million people Scots and Scotland residents who will vote on their future on Thursday.
Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, who has spearheaded the drive for independence, said he was confident the “Yes” campaign would win.
“We’re not aiming to win by one vote. We’re aiming to achieve a substantial majority if we can,” he said on the BBC.
Alistair Darling, a former British finance minister and leader of the “Better Together” campaign, warned that if Scots vote to split from the United Kingdom, it would be an irreversible decision that would bring economic doom and gloom.
With promises from British political leaders of greater powers for Scotland in the event of a “No” vote, Scots could have the best of both worlds, Darling said.
And Queen Elizabeth, coming out of a Sunday morning church service near her Scottish residence Balmoral, told a well-wisher she hoped Scots would think very carefully about the future.
In Glasgow, the blue badges of the “Yes” to independence campaign dominated central Buchanan Street, with a convoy of cars driving through the downtown waving “Yes” banners and tooting horns. Buskers also sang in support of independence and a bagpipe-and-drum band drew a large crowd.
The Glasgow vote will be crucial to the result, given the city’s size.
Thousands of people marched to the BBC headquarters, complaining that the state-run broadcaster was biased against the “Yes” campaign.
“We pay our license fees. We don’t want them to favour us - we were just marching for an impartial state broadcaster,” said Liz, a teacher.
Salmond has frequently accused the BBC - which could be carved up if Scotland votes for independence - of siding with the unionists. A BBC spokesperson said the corporation has been “rigorously impartial”.
But the incident showed the high emotions and divisions stirred by the referendum, which could result in the end of the 307-year-old union with England and the break-up of the United Kingdom.
“No one wants to forget what we achieved together during the two World Wars. But where’s the vision for the future?” said Ian, an IT manager from Glasgow who had been on the march.
Independence supporters say it is time for Scotland to choose its own leaders and rule itself, free of control from London and politicians they say ignore their views and needs.
“No” campaigners say Scotland is more secure and prosperous as part of the United Kingdom and the end of the union would destroy three centuries of bonds and shared history as well as bring in economic and financial hardship.
More than 4 million Scots as well as English and foreign residents, from the Highands and Islands to Glasgow’s gritty inner city estates, are eligible to vote. The question on the ballot paper will ask simply: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Out of four new polls, three showed those in favour of maintaining the union with a lead of between 2 and 8 percentage points. But an ICM poll conducted over the Internet showed supporters of independence in the lead with 54 percent and unionists on 46 percent.
Last week, Scottish–based banks including RBS (RBS.L) said they had plans to relocate should independence happen, big retailers spoke of possible price rises north of the border and Germany’s Deutsche Bank warned of economic meltdown.
Salmond has dismissed this as a London-contrived campaign of bullying and scare-mongering. However, the pound had dropped on market concerns of a “Yes” victory and investors have pulled billions out of British financial assets.
The biggest financial question is what currency an independent Scotland would use. Salmond insists it would keep the pound in a currency union with the rump UK, but Prime Minister David Cameron and others have ruled this out.
Until September, all polls but one in 2013 had shown the unionists with a comfortable lead. But such is the gravity of the situation that finance minister George Osborne cancelled a trip to the G20 meeting in Australia after the vote. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will leave the G20 meeting early.
The Queen’s comment was taken by unionists as a sign of support for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom. A Buckingham Palace source stressed that the queen was constitutionally above politics and would express no view.
Salmond has said she should stay on as Queen of Scots if independence happens.
Meanwhile the head of the Church of Scotland appealed for Scots to put their differences aside and reconcile after the referendum, whatever the outcome.
In a nationally-broadcast sermon at Edinburgh’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Reverend John Chalmers urged Scots to vote.
But he added: “The real success of next Thursday will be that...every voice will continue to play its part in shaping the kind of Scotland that people in Scotland vote for,” he said.
Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Writing by Angus MacSwan, Editing by Ralph Boulton