In Brief

Scottish independence: UK party leaders pledge new powers

Cameron promises he 'won't be here forever' but warns that leaving the UK will be a 'painful divorce'

Scottish independence: UK party leaders rush north to sway Scots

10 September

The leaders of the UK's three main parties are putting their political differences aside and racing north to campaign against Scottish independence.

The three leaders have abandoned the usual Wednesday routine of prime minister's questions and are travelling to Scotland to make separate appeals. David Cameron is due to appear in the Edinburgh area this morning, followed by Nick Clegg in the Scottish Borders and Ed Miliband in the Glasgow area."There is a lot that divides us – but there's one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together," the three leaders said in a joint statement.In a move described as "bizarre" by the Daily Telegraph's Michael Deacon, Cameron also ordered the Saltire to fly over Downing Street until the referendum is concluded."If that latter announcement felt odd, it felt odder when they tried to make it happen, only for the rope to snap mid-hoist, the Saltire flopping apologetically on to the workmen," says Deacon.The Guardian says that the "unprecedented cooperation" across the Westminster divide "exposes the naked fear in London that Scottish voters are not heeding the jitters in the financial markets or dark warnings about the irreversible risks to the Scottish economy entailed in a vote for yes next week".Writing in the Daily Mail, Cameron told Scottish voters today that the rest of the UK "desperately wants you to stay". He warned that "if the UK breaks apart, it breaks apart forever".In what the Mail describes as his first "impassioned" plea, he adds: "As individuals and as nations, we have done extraordinary things. This is the special alchemy of the UK – you mix together Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and together we smash expectations."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has described today's trip as "the biggest blunder of the campaign" and claimed Westminster is "in a total and utter panic".

For a balanced, in-depth discussion of the historical context of the current debate about Scottish independence, read The Week's ebook, Independence for Scotland?, available now from Amazon.

Scottish Independence: Gordon  Brown unveils devolution plan

09 September

Gordon Brown came out of semi-retirement last night in a bid to stop Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, as a new poll confirmed that the Yes and No campaigns are neck and neck.

The former prime minister revealed his proposal for a timetable to give the Scottish Parliament more control over finance, welfare and taxation as part of a new Scotland Act if voters reject independence.The Guardian says his proposals are expected to be very close to the final deal to be announced in Edinburgh today by the UK's three main parties.Brown said that Labour was demanding a tight timetable for change, with a "command paper" of proposals published by end of October and a draft for a new Scotland Act to be published in January. Work on the new legislation would begin on 19 September, the day after the referendum, he said.The coalition parties reportedly welcomed Brown's speech, but Yes campaigners said it smacked of panic and desperation.The details of the extra powers are yet to be confirmed. The Tories and Liberal Democrats want to give Scottish parliament control over all Scottish income tax, while Labour wants Holyrood to control tax rates up to 15p in a pound, as well as all housing benefits in Scotland, worth £1.7bn.Speaking at the Loanhead Miners' Welfare and Social Club in Midlothian, the first leg of a cross-country speaking tour, Brown said that "the status quo is no longer an option". He described the devolution powers offered by Westminster as "a big change in the constitution" to something "near to federalism".The latest poll, by TNS, showed that support for independence had jumped six points in a month, with the Yes vote at 38 per cent, just one point behind the No vote. The rest, 23 per cent, were undecided.

Shares in Scottish banks and companies fell, as did the pound, after Sunday's YouGov poll showed the first narrow lead for the Yes campaign.

For a balanced, in-depth discussion of the historical context of the current debate about Scottish independence, read The Week's ebook, Independence for Scotland?, available now from Amazon.

Scotland offered 'last-ditch'  raft of powers by Westminster

08 September

With just "ten days to save the United Kingdom", pro-unionists are planning to offer Scotland a raft of new powers if it votes No to independence.

The Yes campaign took a narrow poll lead for first time over the weekend, forcing pro-unionists into "frantic action", says the Daily Telegraph.Chancellor George Osborne appeared on BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, promising Scots a "plan of action" within days to give them more powers in areas including tax, spending and welfare.Labour leader Ed Miliband has also joined Osborne in saying the process of handing more powers to Scotland should begin immediately after any No vote.The Independent describes it as a "last-ditch attempt" by pro-unionists who have "ten days to save the UK", while First Minister Alex Salmond says it was a "panicky measure" announced without credibility because his Yes Scotland campaign is "winning on the ground".The YouGov poll for The Sunday Times put the Yes campaign on 51 per cent and the unionists on 49 per cent, overturning a 22-point lead for the Better Together campaign in the space of a month.When trading opened in Asian markets today, sterling fell nearly 1 per cent to around $1.6165, reaching lows not seen since last November.Several newspapers suggest David Cameron held "crisis talks" with the Queen at Balmoral over the weekend, with the monarch reportedly "concerned" over the prospect of Scotland leaving the UK. However, Buckingham Palace has insisted that the Queen remains neutral.BBC political correspondent Ben Wright says the outcome of the referendum now looks "utterly uncertain". The "sleepy assumption" among the pro-union parties that there would be a relatively comfortable vote against independence has been completely destroyed over the past few days, he says.

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls on Thursday 18 September, when they will be asked: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Scottish independence: Fracking 'could double' oil and gas reserves

05 September

Offshore fracking could double Scotland's viable oil and gas reserves, according to a new report welcomed by nationalists.

But with less than two weeks to go until the referendum on Scottish independence, unionists have dismissed the claims as Yes campaign propaganda.

The report suggests underwater hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could almost double the amount of recoverable oil from 24 billion barrels to 45 billion barrels and "propel Scotland towards the top of the global league table in terms of oil and gas production".

New reserves could result in an extra £1 to £2 trillion in oil revenue, depending on price fluctuations, which would generate £300 billion in tax revenues for the Scottish government. It said it would be the beginning of a 'black gold bonanza' for the country.

"We welcome the report and are interested in exploring the huge potential benefits for the industry and the country that it represents," Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister told The Times.

However unionists have dismissed the claims, pointing out that the think-tank N-56 that authored the report was founded by Dan Macdonald, an SNP donor and Yes campaign advisory board member.

"It's remarkable an organisation whose founder sits on Yes Scotland's board has discovered £300bn worth of oil just weeks before the referendum," said Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser.

 He said he was convinced the Scottish public would "see right through this study as an SNP move to ease concerns over dwindling oil revenues."

Academic David Macdonald, Professor of Petroleum Geology at Aberdeen University, told the Daily Telegraph that the finding were "largely nonsense", saying the cost of offshore fracking had been grossly underestimated by the think-tank.

Last month oil billionaire Sir Ian Wood, who opposes Scottish independence, said existing oil reserve forecasts overstated potential revenue by up to 60 per cent.

Scottish independence: sterling tumbles as Yes vote surges

3 September

The rising tide of support for Scottish independence has caused uncertainty in the financial markets, with investors warning that more volatility is to be expected.

The pound dropped by 0.7 per cent to $1.6502 after a poll published yesterday suggested that an independent Scotland is a real possibility. The pro-Union Better Together campaign's lead was cut to just six points, meaning that a swing of three per cent would hand victory to the pro-independence Yes Scotland camp.

The result lead to sterling's most volatile day in three years, as investors began taking out protection against currency fluctuations in the event of Scotland exiting the Union.  

The surge in support for independence appears to have taken some in the financial sector by surprise. Investors have "finally woken up and smelt the coffee," Eimear Daly, head of market analysis at Monex Europe, told the Daily Telegraph.

"Big international investors are aware of the risk," David Owen, European economist at investment bank Jefferies, told The Times. "But a lot of others have simply assumed this was a done deal and that Scotland would stay in the union."

Market analysts expect the pound to fall much further if Scotland votes Yes, and some have suggested that the turmoil could spread to government bonds, generally thought to be the most secure of investments.

A vote for independence would shock investors and could lead to "unfathomable levels of uncertainty," Bill O'Neill, the head of UBS Wealth Management's UK division told the Financial Times

"The sheer shock and the clear expansion in the distribution of outcomes would lead to something . . . dramatic, at least in terms of initial reaction," he warned. O'Neill also reported that some Scottish customers were already transferring funds to English registered banks "as a precaution".

Despite the latest polls, bookmakers still believe there is only a 20 per cent chance that the nationalists will win on the September 18.

Scottish referendum: a million jobs depend on the Union, says Cameron

28 August

With just three weeks to go until the Scottish independence referendum, David Cameron will today make the business case for the Union. Speaking at business group CBI Scotland's annual dinner in Glasgow, he will call the UK "one of the oldest and most successful common markets in the world".

Sky News says the Prime Minister will insist that jobs in Scotland depend on the Union. He will say: "Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK than with the rest of the world put together ... trade that helps to support one million Scottish jobs.

"For some industries, the proportion of trade with the rest of the UK is even higher - 90 per cent of Scottish financial services' customers are in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Then there's the world-famous gaming industry, cutting-edge sub-sea technology and life-saving biomedicine - all selling far more outside Scotland than inside."

The speech comes amid a growing debate about the impact independence would have on the business world. Yesterday, 130 business leaders wrote to The Scotsman newspaper saying a business case for Scotland going solo had not been made.

Today's Glasgow Herald carries an open letter from businessmen and women who believe Scotland would do better on its own. They say independence would give the country powers to "give our many areas of economic strength even more of an advantage in an increasingly competitive world".

Alex Salmond wins TV debate – but will it matter?

26 August

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Better Together leader Alistair Darling clashed last night on live TV as they debated Scottish independence in Glasgow's Kelvingrove art gallery.

A snap Guardian/ICM poll awarded a clear victory to Salmond – with 65 per cent of the 505 voters surveyed saying he had won, 26 per cent choosing Darling and nine per cent undecided. With the don't-knows excluded, Salmond got 71 per cent.

Darling was "thumped", according to the Glasgow Herald. With the debate coming just one day before 750,000 postal ballots are sent out, it's great timing for the winner – if the result makes any difference to the electorate.

Salmond was universally deemed to have fumbled the pair's earlier televised encounter, refusing to answer Darling's key question: if Scotland is denied a currency union by the rest of the UK, what is plan B?

This time, Salmond insisted he had "three plan Bs" – but he "again refused to set out his preferred option", observes The Scotsman.

Salmond instead went on the attack against Darling, accusing him of being "in bed with the Tory party" because he has chosen to share the No platform with the Tories, the Glasgow Herald reports. Darling's angry retort was that he supported neither the Conservatives nor the SNP.

The First Minister also turned his attention on the NHS, arguing the only way for Scots to protect it was to end the Union. Darling accused Salmond of repeating "fabrications" about health service cut-backs in England to support his case.

The debate was the "most important 90 minutes of Mr Salmond's political life" says the Scotsman – and his apparent victory marks "a profound change of fortunes for the First Minister and is likely to energise the pro-independence campaign", says The Guardian.

But while the snap poll awarded victory to Salmond in the debate, a majority of the 505 voters surveyed still said they would vote No – and in the latest poll of polls, Salmond's Yes campaign is still trailing No by 14 points, says The Guardian.

For The Scotsman, politics professor John Curtice regrets that "there was very little discussion on the issue that matters most to voters – whether independence would be good or bad for Scotland's economy".

The debate "frequently descended into a shouting match with the two speaking over each other and the chair losing control of the discussion", laments The Guardian.

Perhaps the public reaction to the tone of the debate, which took place in one of Scotland's finest art galleries, was best summed up by Twitter user @highlandkatie. She wrote: "It's all a bit shouty. If I was in the audience I'd have a wander about, they've some cracking paintings in there."

Scottish referendum: seven questions for tonight's debate

25 August

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond and the Better Together campaign chairman Alistair Darling are due to go head to head in a second televised debate before the Scottish referendum next month. Most pundits agreed that Darling came out on top in the last debate on 5 August, but Salmond will have another chance to win over voters at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow tonight. The 90-minute showdown is likely to be the last public debate between the two sides before the referendum on 18 September, with more than 700,000 postal votes due to be sent out tomorrow – the largest number ever in Scotland. So what are the key questions Salmond and Darling will need to answer?

Will Scotland keep the pound?

The future of Scotland's currency was described as the "most important issue in the independence debate" by Sir Martin Jacomb, the former chairman of Prudential, and Sir Andrew Large, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England. Writing in [1]The Times, they warned that a currency union would lead to problems of the kind experienced by eurozone countries since 2008. Salmond insists Scotland will continue using the pound, despite the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour all rejecting the plan. After facing an onslaught from Darling over his refusal to identify a Plan B in the last debate, the First Minister has said he will explain his position "in more detail" tonight.

How can an independent Scotland help women?

The Scottish National Party has said its key audience tonight will be undecided voters, making women a crucial target group. Polls suggest female voters are "markedly more sceptical about independence than men – and less likely to be fans of Mr Salmond," says the Financial Times. The party has previously pledged to tackle gender inequalities more effectively than Westminster and has set out plans to close the pay gap and set a clear target, possibly backed by legislation, for women on company and public boards.

What will happen to healthcare?

The future of the health service looks likely to be a key battleground. Salmond has offered to enshrine a free NHS in a written Scottish constitution and said that a Yes vote will "protect our publicly owned, publicly run NHS forever from Westminster privatisation and cuts". The Scottish Conservatives have accused Salmond of "shameless scaremongering" by suggesting that a No vote was a threat to healthcare.

Will Scotland join the European Union?

Yes campaigners claim Scotland will remain part of the EU after independence. They have no doubt that Scotland meets all the requirements for membership and that its place in the EU will continue "seamlessly". But some legal experts believe Scotland would have to reapply for membership.

Darling has accused Salmond of playing "roulette" with the EU. He told The Independent: "The average time it took countries to join the EU in the last 20 years is about eight years. The last thing Scottish firms need is that uncertainty. It would be entirely self-inflicted." The pair clashed over the subject in the last debate with no agreement.

Will North Sea oil enable Scotland to go it alone?

The SNP says its bank balance is healthier than the UK's, with strong public finances, successful industries and abundant natural resources. Scotland has 60 per cent of the EU's oil reserves, it says, with the North Sea oil reserves expected to generate around £34.3bn in the next five years. But the Better Together campaign says the revenue coming from the North Sea collapsed this year, leaving Scotland in worse shape than the UK overall for the first time in five years – and a Scottish oil billionaire said this week that Salmond has overestimated the value of Scottish oil reserves by as much as 60 per cent (see below).

What will happen to Trident in an independent Scotland?

Plans to remove Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland are at the heart of SNP's campaign for independence. But Westminster says it is making no plans to move the weapons and any alternative solution would come at huge cost and take decades. The Scottish government says that independence would "protect" jobs at the Faslane Trident base, turning it into a conventional naval facility. But defence contractor Babcock, which employs 4,750 people in Scotland, has warned that independence is likely to lead to job losses.

Would independence help or hinder individual Scots?

Salmond has offered Scots a host of incentives for voting Yes, such as 30 hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds and a rise in minimum wage in line with the cost of living. He claims that Scots will be £1,000 a year better off. However, the UK Treasury rejects that figure, claiming Scots will be £1,400 a year poorer and subject to a hike in taxes to pay for independence. The BBC says it is "almost impossible" to know whether either figure is correct, and the impact on Scotland will depend on how those "crucial post-independence negotiations would pan out".

  • Scotland Decides: Salmond versus Darling is on at 8.30pm tonight on BBC One Scotland for viewers in Scotland and BBC Two for viewers in the rest of the UK.

SNP 'exaggerated Scotland's oil reserves by 60%' 

21 August 

One of Scotland's most respected industrialists, Sir Ian Wood, has accused Alex Salmond of exaggerating the amount of oil that Scotland will be able to extract from the North Sea by up to 60 per cent.

According to Wood, the founder of the oil services firm Wood Group, the pro-independence campaign has overestimated North Sea oil income by up to £2bn a year.The comments were made in an interview with energyvoice.com, in which the oil billionaire revealed his fears that an independent Scotland may have just 15 years of relative plenty before the depletion of income from North Sea oil begins to take a toll on jobs and the economy.He said: "I believe the debate should not be about nationalism, but growth and economic success, and the quality of life for citizens and all that goes with that. Against these measures, it's very hard not to conclude the case is heavily weighted towards Scotland remaining in the UK and getting the best of both worlds – I want the best for future generations of Scots."Wood insisted that he had "no allegiance to any party or campaign", but said that he felt he needed to come forward with his views so that he could tell his grandchildren that when given the opportunity he "did all he could".According to Wood, Salmond's estimate that there were 24 billion barrels of oil available under the North Sea missed the mark by 45 to 60 per cent. He said: "Based on the research and conversations within my review, and across the industry, I believe, that even with a more sympathetic tax and regulation framework, the likely best outcome, without new hydrocarbon regions being discovered, is between 15 billion and 16.5 billion barrels."Alistair Darling, head of the anti-independence Better Together campaign, said Wood's words "fatally undermine" Salmond's reckoning of how much oil will be available in the years ahead, and "blow apart Alex Salmond's plans for funding schools and hospitals".

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, said that Scotland was "wealthy enough to live without huge oil revenues," The Guardian reports.

Independent Scotland 'not guaranteed' Nato membership

19 Aug 

An independent Scotland will not automatically become a part of Nato and will have to reapply for membership, according to the secretary-general of the military alliance.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that an independent Scotland's membership of Nato would be dependent on a unanimous vote from all 28 member states, and he warned that the decision could be blocked by any of the states in the alliance. "Some aspiring countries have waited for many years," Rasmussen said.

With less than a month to go until the independence referendum, it is an announcement that will "alarm wavering voters", The Times reports.

The Scottish Parliament has previously said that joining the international military alliance would "be in the interests of Scotland, the rest of the UK and other Nato members", according to STV.

A Scottish government spokesperson said it was already aware that it would have to reapply for Nato membership if it gained independence, but that it was confident its application would be successful. "Given that Scotland occupies a key strategic location in the North Atlantic, we believe our continue membership will be in the strong interests of the rest of the alliance."

The former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, said it was unlikely that Britain would attempt to derail Scotland's entry into Nato, but he did warn that other countries facing independence struggles themselves, such as Spain, might wish to do so as a warning.

The SNP only recently changed its view on Nato membership, scrapping its 30-year long opposition to being a part of the alliance. However, the party says that membership would be "dependent on Trident nuclear weapons being removed from Scotland", the BBC reports. 

There is still strong opposition of the alliance and nuclear weapons within the SNP. Many party members "hold a vision of a neutral (and largely disarmed) Scotland - more like Sweden or Finland than Norway or the Netherlands", the Guardian reports.

Scottish independence: moving Trident 'difficult and expensive'

15 Aug

A respected military think tank has weighed into the debate over Scottish independence, saying the UK's nuclear deterrent can be moved out of Scotland if Scots vote to leave the Union – and it would cost less than previously thought.

The UK's four Trident submarines are based at Faslane on Gare Loch, in Scotland. The Scottish National Party has promised to get rid of them if Scots vote Yes to independence on 18 September.Previously, it had been claimed that moving Trident elsewhere – Plymouth in England or Milford Haven in Wales have been suggested – might be prohibitively expensive, with costs of £10bn to £20bn suggested.Now the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) says while a move would be "difficult" it is "not impossible", the BBC reports. It could cost between £2.5bn and £3.5bn to build a new facility at 2012 prices, plus the cost of buying and clearing the site, says the think tank.

However, Rusi warns that it might take as much as a decade to move Trident, despite the SNP's pledge that it will make sure the submarines are gone within four years of independence.

Rusi research analyst Hugh Chalmers said the findings contrast with an "unlikely consensus" between the Yes and No camps, which both claimed that relocating the submarines would be impossible. The Yes campaign has previously said that the rest of the UK, without Scotland, would be forced to scrap the weapons.

A spokeswoman for the SNP-led Scottish Government told the BBC the report showed that "the UK government has choices on what it decides to do with its nuclear weapons following their removal from an independent Scotland".

Chalmers pointed out that if Scots vote to leave the Union, there will be a period of time when the rest of the UK will have its nuclear deterrent based in an independent country, adding: "The UK would be the first country ever to do this."

Alex Salmond: 'it's Scotland's pound and we are keeping it'

11 Aug

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is insisting that an independent Scotland would keep the pound, despite the three main Westminster parties ruling the option out.

Salmond was repeatedly pushed on the question of currency during last week's debate with Alistair Darling, the Better Together campaign leader. He was even booed by the audience for failing to outline a Plan B. Labour leader Ed Miliband subsequently announced that his party would include a commitment in its 2015 manifesto not to share the pound.

But writing in the Sunday Herald, the First Minister insists there is "literally nothing anyone can do to stop an independent Scotland using the pound".

He points to a report from a group of economists published last year, which concluded that retaining sterling in a formal currency union is the best option for Scotland and for the rest of the UK.

The No campaign's "tactic" of rejecting a currency union therefore "makes absolutely no economic sense", he says.

He insists that Westminster politicians are bluffing when they say they will block a formal currency union. He concedes that Westminster could deny an independent Scotland the use of the Bank of England, but he says by doing so England and Wales would be taking on over a quarter of the UK's entire national debt of around £1.3 trillion.

Salmond says that Miliband's "hasty gambit" to include a block on Scotland's continued use of the pound in his party's manifesto therefore starts to look "less like a cunning electoral plan and more like an self-inflicted double whammy".

He adds: "It is Scotland's pound. And we are keeping it, come what may."

With less than six weeks to go before the Scottish referendum, the Salmond-Darling debate prompted a drop in support for the Yes campaign. According to a Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail, support for independence dropped from 40 per cent to 37 per cent, while support for the No campaign surged from 46 per cent to 50 per cent.

The Mail claims Salmond's failure to answer questions about the currency of an independent Scotland was "at the heart of the dramatic collapse".

Scottish independence: who won the big TV debate?

6 August

With just six weeks to go before the Scottish referendum, First Minister Alex Salmond clashed with Better Together campaign leader Alistair Darling in a live television debate last night – and judging by today's newspaper headlines, it was Darling who came out on top.

Even Scotland's Daily Record declared "Alex takes a pounding", while The Herald announced: "Darling draws first blood."

Against all predictions, it was Darling who emerged as a "solid winner", says Anne Perkins in The Guardian. "There was still no positive vision of Scotland's future as part of the UK, but he raised too many uncomfortable questions about what independence would mean," she says.

Viewers in Scotland, and those south of the border who were able to make their STV Player work, watched Darling put up an uncharacteristically aggressive fight.

"He can now no longer accurately be described as the most boring politician in Scotland," says Alex Massie in The Times. The former chancellor was happy to personalise the debate and just as happy for it become a kind of "bar-room brawl", says Massie. "At times Mr Darling seemed like an exasperated teacher lecturing a bright but infuriatingly stubborn pupil who just refuses to 'get it'. Rarely has Mr Salmond been beaten up so badly live on television."

In The Scotsman, Tom Peterkin believes "neither man managed to deliver a devastating knock-out as they exchanged blows, and it remains to be seen whether Mr Salmond's performance was convincing enough to sway enough undecideds to Yes".

Salmond was unable to say what he would do if Westminster refused to let Scots keep the pound – an issue that The Independent suggests could be the Yes campaign's undoing.

The "gloves came off" when Darling launched a personal attack on Salmond, says the newspaper. "An eight-year-old can tell you what Scotland's capital and flag is," jibed Darling. "But you can't tell us what Scotland's currency will be."

Salmond offered a more emotional appeal to Scots. "My case this evening is simple: no-one, absolutely no-one, will do a better job of running Scotland than the people who live and work in Scotland," he said.

But polling numbers show that "hard-headed arguments", about issues such as Scotland's future currency and EU membership, are the ones that really move swing voters, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. "These were the arguments that won the debate for Mr Darling."

Scottish independence: UK pledges more powers to Scotland if it votes No

5 August

The Scottish Parliament would receive more powers if it votes against independence in next month's referendum, according to a three-party pledge from UK leaders.

The declaration, signed by all three main party leaders, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, offers extra tax-raising powers and more control over  social security, according to the BBC

The 'unprecedented' cross-party pledge, published 44 days before the referendum by Alistair Darling's Better Together campaign, promises to deliver a "stronger Scottish parliament in a stronger United Kingdom".

The leaders have promised that devolution would feature in all three of their party manifestos and that powers would be delivered "as swiftly as possible" after next year's general election.

"Saying No Thanks doesn’t mean no change," said Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. "It means we can get on with building a more responsible and a more powerful Scottish Parliament, while remaining part of the UK family of nations.”

The announcement is seen as an "attempt to undermine Alex Salmond" ahead of tonight's television debate between the Scottish first minister and Alistair Darling, writes the Daily Telegraph's Scottish political editor Simon Johnson.

But a spokesperson for Alex Salmond said "no-one in Scotland will be fooled by this Westminster-led rehash of vague promises and unspecified more powers" if Scotland votes against independence. "The Tories have tried that before."

David Cameron had previously fought "tooth and nail" to prevent Scottish Parliament from receiving more power, "so how can anyone take him seriously now?" he asked.

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