GLASGOW — With nine days left before Scotland votes on whether to become independent, Britain’s leaders went into overdrive on Tuesday with efforts to keep the country intact.
Jolted by recent polls suggesting that the outcome is very much in doubt, Prime Minister David Cameron and his counterparts in the other main political parties announced that they would put aside their parliamentary duties on Wednesday and fly north to campaign against dismemberment of the 307-year-old union with England.
They rushed ahead with a last-minute plan to grant Scotland more say over its own affairs if it votes to stay in the union. They flew Scottish flags on English buildings. And the head of the Bank of England warned Scots against thinking that they could count on retaining the pound sterling as their currency should they secede.
But in Easterhouse, one of Glasgow’s down-at-the-heels suburbs, neither promises of more autonomy nor pledges of English affection nor warnings of economic disruption seemed to be blunting momentum in favor of the pro-independence movement.
Sitting in her car outside the Shandwick Square mall, Jane McGeachy, 54, said she would vote “yes” because she wants change. Though independence would be a huge decision for her, her children and grandchildren, she said, the only sleepless nights she has had came from “the thought that it would be a ‘no’ vote.”
On Monday, Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and a Scot, promised a series of new political powers for Scotland if voters rejected independence, and all three main parties — the ruling Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and their Labour opponents — agreed Tuesday to put the legislation on a fast track. But Ms. McGeachy was unimpressed, saying, “So why did he not give us more power” when he was prime minister?
If the polls are correct, Ms. McGeachy is the sort of voter who is propelling Scotland toward a breach with the rest of Britain. Recent polls suggest that women, who were more cautious earlier in the campaign, are turning toward the “yes” camp, as are working-class voters, even though the Labour Party opposes independence.
The Scottish National Party, which is campaigning in favor, seems to have struck a chord with voters in Easterhouse by calling for a more socially inclusive country that it says can be built only with the powers that independence would bring. Ms. McGeachy, a former care worker who is disabled by a spinal problem, said she was comfortably off because her husband owns an engineering business, but she remembers hard times when they were both on welfare and has friends who use food banks.
Politicians of all political hues are unpopular here, and the British Parliament in Westminster is seen by many voters as remote and out of touch. The Conservative Party, which leads the current coalition government, has been little loved in Scotland for years, and now holds just one of Scotland’s 59 seats in Parliament.
“The Tories have created a society for the greedy people,” Ms. McGeachy said.
Though Easterhouse was once infamous for drug dealing, alcohol addiction and social deprivation, antipoverty activists say that much has improved in the last decade. Crumbling housing projects have been torn down and a big new shopping complex opened. But the British government gets little credit for that.
People who are unemployed and living off government assistance seem to be hard for the “no” campaigners to sway, while the “yes” campaign says it is attracting many disillusioned people who normally do not vote at all.
Stephen Armour, 44, said he has lived off welfare since he was attacked in the street 19 years ago and suffered serious head injuries that left him with epilepsy and a hearing disability. He said he supported independence partly out of despair with his current situation.
His welfare payments amount to little more than £100 (about $160) a week, he said, and there is no prospect of a job in construction, the work he did before the attack. He said he had depression and found little to fill his days apart from trips to pick up medication. The “no” campaign’s warnings that the Scottish economy would be hurt by independence have had little impact on Mr. Armour, who said that “things can’t get any worse.”
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, the leader of the “yes” campaign and Scotland’s first minister, seems to have had success in persuading people here that Scotland’s oil wealth could be deployed more equally across society, and that Scots could keep the pound as their currency even if they declared independence.
The leaders of the three major parties in London have all rejected sharing the pound, and the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said Tuesday said that maintaining a common currency after independence was “incompatible with sovereignty.” Mr. Salmond says they are bluffing and that if London refused to negotiate a currency union, Scotland would walk away from its share of the national debt. Mr. Armour argued — as Mr. Salmond does — that “it’s our pound, too.”
“I’m sick of the English telling us what to do,” Mr. Armour said, adding that if Mr. Cameron visited Easterhouse, “I think someone would strangle him.”
The positive language of the “yes” campaign, emphasizing freedom and opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for self-determination, is attractive to many who are still undecided. By contrast, the “no” campaign has struggled to shake off a reputation for negativity.
Outside the Morrison’s supermarket, Lorraine Ramsey, a store manager who lives in Cumbernauld north of Glasgow, rehearsed the arguments for and against independence, saying that she had not yet made up her mind. She acknowledged concerns about the economy, and that it was “a huge decision, and not one to be taken lightly.”
But as she waited to withdraw money from an automated teller machine, she also expressed another thought, one that may be stirring other Scots. “We are a strong nation, a passionate nation,” she said. “To get our independence would give us pride in our country.”
New York Times