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Businesses face 'day of reckoning' - Nationalist issues threat; Union camp seizes on 'ugly' side of rivals; Yes impetus falters

Published:Wednesday | September 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
AP A series of bank notes are displayed in central London. The day after an independence vote, the pound sterling will remain Scotland's official currency. The Scottish government wants to keep it in the long term as well but Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said

By Mure Dickie in Edinburgh, George Parker in Glasgow and Ralph Atkins in London

With the latest opinion poll suggesting a Yes surge had stalled, the No Campaign sought to maintain momentum by seizing on threats by a former senior nationalist that banks would face a "day of reckoning" in the event of a Yes vote in Thursday's independence referendum.

While Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, and his allies fanned out across the country, a dissident former deputy leader of the Scottish National party hit out at businesses that have warned of the potential risks of independence. The oil major BP would need "to learn the meaning of nationalisation in part or in whole" after a Yes vote, he said.

Mr Sillars is a veteran socialist campaigner who has been at odds with SNP policy since stepping down as deputy leader in the early 1990s, and the Yes campaign distanced itself from his comments. But his remarks were seized on by pro-union politicians, who noted that he had shared a pro-independence platform with his old rival Mr Salmond this week.

"Sillars stood shoulder to shoulder with Alex Salmond this week, claiming to be positive. Now we see the real face of nationalism in all its ugliness," said Ian Davidson, a Labour member of the UK parliament.

Concern in Westminster about the outcome was underlined by news that George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, and Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, had cancelled plans to attend a G20 meeting in Australia next week so that they can be in London to deal with any potential fallout.

After a fortnight in which some polls suggested support for the No campaign was crumbling, campaigners for the 307-year-old union took comfort in an opinion poll by ICM for The Guardian that suggested Yes momentum might have stalled.But the poll confirmed the vote was within the statistical margin of error, with No leading by just 51 per cent to 49 per cent for Yes. "We're a few days away from the people of Scotland taking control of the future of our own country," said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's deputy first minister, during a whistle-stop tour of southern cities.

"The Westminster establish-ment doesn't want that to happen so they are going to throw everything they can. But you know what? I don't think it will work," she said.

Tim Martin, the chairman of the JD Wetherspoon pub group, which employs 3,000 people in Scotland, said politicians and businesspeople were "underestimating the intelligence of voters" with their warnings.

Mr Martin, who said he was neutral, said there was "no reason why Scotland shouldn't thrive as an independent country if that's what Scots want".

In a sign of investor jitters at the possibility of Scottish independence, EPFR, the funds data provider, said it had tracked an outflow of US$672m from UK equity funds last week, the second biggest total since its records began in 2001.

"There was a scramble as people woke up to realise a No vote was not a certainty. It was also quite a good time to take money off the table," said Cameron Brandt, EPFR's research director.

Union Investment, one of Germany's biggest asset managers, announced it was reducing holdings of UK equities and bonds. "For the capital markets, the independence of Scotland poses no opportunities, only risks," said Frank Engels, head of pensions investment.

David Folkerts-Landau, group chief economist of Deutsche Bank, said that a Yes vote would go down in history as "a political and economic mistake" comparable to errors made in the 1920s that led to the Great Depression, including Winston Churchill's decision in 1925 to return the pound to the gold standard.

Gordon Brown, the Labour former prime minister, and Ed Miliband, the party's current leader, intensified efforts to shore up party members' support for remaining in the UK, promising that a No vote would lead rapidly to greater powers for Scotland.

(c) 2014 The Financial Times Limited