The 307-year-old union between Scotland and England hangs by a thread as a fresh Guardian/ICM poll put the yes vote in next week's referendum just two percentage points behind those supporting no.
Despite an intense week of campaigning by pro-union politicians and repeated warnings from business, the poll out on Friday found support for the no campaign on 51% and with yes on 49%, once don't knows were excluded.
The Guardian/ICM poll is based on telephone interviews conducted between Tuesday and Thursday, the first such survey ICM has conducted during the campaign. Previous polls suggesting that the race for Scotland was too close to call have been based on internet-based surveys.
The headline figures exclude the 17% of voters in Scotland who ICM found were still undecided a mere week before polling day, a substantial proportion that gives the pro-UK campaign hope that it could arrest September's surge in support for independence.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and first minister, said he was now "more confident than ever" that Scotland would vote yes on 18 September. "Despite Westminster's efforts we've seen a flourishing of national self-confidence," he said. "It's this revival in Scottish confidence that tells me we'll make a great success of an independent Scotland."
At a rally with former prime minister Gordon Brown in Glasgow on Friday night, Labour leader Ed Miliband reached out to the 29% of Labour voters who told ICM they planned to vote yes next week. He said only a no vote could guarantee that Scotland had the money to protect the NHS. "With a vote for no, change is coming with more powers on tax and welfare for a stronger Scotland," he said.
"Change is coming faster with a devolution delivery plan beginning the day after the referendum. And better change, faster change, safer change is the message we will take on to the streets and the doorsteps in the last few days of the campaign."
The Guardian's ICM poll had difficult findings for both campaigns, coming five days after a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times was the first to put the yes camp ahead – by two percentage points. The shock of that poll prompted David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Miliband to give speeches in Scotland on Wednesday.
But it had appeared that the yes campaign had lost momentum, as four other more recent polls gave no a narrow lead – a survey commissioned by Yes Scotland itself from Panelbase, a Survation poll for the Daily Record, a further YouGov poll, and a TNS face-to-face survey.
ICM found that the no vote is ahead across most age brackets and noted a marked gender gap. Excluding don't knows, just 45% of women plan to vote yes at this stage. But a majority of men, 52%, back independence.
Salmond is planning a helicopter tour of western and southern Scotland on Saturday as he begins his final push to end the union.
Salmond appeared to be even more bullish about the prospect of a yes result by the time he reached Perth yesterday evening, predicting that there would be a "decisive yes vote" next week.
He hit out once again at David Cameron, saying: "We are not going to be bullied by a prime minister who has been caught red-handed bringing supermarkets into his office to tell them to give negative messages to the Scottish people or a treasury who has been caught red handed in terms of what they have been doing with the release of information from banks.
"There is going to be a decisive yes vote next week and there is nothing I think that David Cameron can now do. No underhand trick, no campaign of intimidation, no campaign of bullying which is going to persuade people not to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Salmond was also pressed by reporters for his reaction to charging of an SNP councillor following an angry confrontation with Better Together campaigners in Kinross.
"Obviously you deprecate any bad behaviour by anyone at any time – whether online or offline but let's face it we are having this extraordinary campaign mobilising tens of thousands of people," he said.
"Ninety nine point nine percent of people are behaving impeccably so obviously you deprecate bad behaviour from whatever side and you know well I have experienced personally a great deal of it."
SNP representative David MacDiarmid allegedly shouted and swore at a gathering of no vote campaigners in the centre of Kinross they put up pro-Union signs on Wednesday. He accepted a £30 on the spot fine.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage became the latest English politican to head up to Scotland, holding his own anti-independence rally in Glasgow on Friday night. Earlier, the Ukip leader, whose party scored 10% in the European elections in Scotland, argued that the Queen should intevene: "If the United Kingdom itself is under threat, then in many ways you could argue she has a responsibility to say something."
Sterling, under pressure on concern about the impact of a yes vote, again slipped slightly on Friday as it emerged that the chancellor, George Osborne, and Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, had decided to miss a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank officials in Australia next week to ensure they are in the UK for the result of referendum.
Osborne, who will be represented by an official, will not travel at all while Carney will still fly to Australia to chair the Financial Stability Board, a powerful group that coordinates international regulation, on Wednesday but return by Thursday night.
Osborne said he was not travelling because of the "economic risks" of the Scotland vote. "This is a very big moment for our country and a very big decision with permanent consequences," he said.
New data showed that in August investors pulled the largest amount from their investments in the UK since the Lehman crisis in 2008. Michael Howell, the managing director of CrossBorder Capital, which complied the data told Reuters the £16bn outflows "look like intensifying again with the possibility of Scottish independence coming to the front of investors' minds".
Meanwhile an influential group of retailers, led by the Kingfisher boss, Sir Ian Cheshire, are compiling a letter to warn of the rising costs an independent Scotland would face, while telecoms firms were also preparing to issue a similar warning.
Sir Mike Rake, the chairman of BT, is also the president of the employers' body, the CBI, which has asked the telecoms companies to rally behind a no vote although the UK's largest network by customers, EE, which is French and German owned, is staying neutral.
Salmond's buoyant mood was challenged by Alistair Darling, chairman of Better Together, who accused parts of the yes campaign of orchestrating systematic attacks on no campaign billboards and posters, and of organised intimidation against no campaigners and supporters. Urging restraint, Darling said the growing intimidation and targeting of the no campaign by a small minority of yes campaigners had "crossed the acceptability line" and needed to be stopped. "There has been dark aspects on this which need to have a light shone on them," Darling said.
Blair Jenkins of Yes Scotland said the 49% support for yes was the highest ever by ICM. "This will spur on everybody who wants and is working hard for a yes to redouble their efforts," he said.
But his rival at Better Together, its campaign director, Blair MacDougall, said: "This is the third poll in a row to show the no campaign in the lead, but this fight for the future of Scotland will go right down to the wire."
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