Scotland ready for vote

In under 48 hours, the Scots will vote on whether they will remain within the UK or be independent.

The pro-independence campaign has argued the only guarantee of more powers is to vote for them.  Picture: AFP.

LONDON - The people of Scotland are waking up to a very different newspaper headline this morning.

In an open letter to everyone about to vote on the country's independence, the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster have signed a pledge to devolve more powers to Scotland if they reject going it alone.

The pro-independence campaign has argued the only guarantee of more powers is to vote for them.

In 48 hours the people of Scotland will be deciding on whether or not to undo an historical union, dating back centuries.

Opinion polls are predicting it will be very close with a slight majority in favour of staying within the United Kingdom.

The promise by the leaders of the main political parties is aimed at tens and thousands of undecided voters and hopes to put some clear distance between the rival campaigns.

The pledge is to grant extensive new powers to the Scottish Parliament, to share resources equitably and to maintain the way the distribution of public spending is calculated.

Pro-independence supporters say this is desperate attempt to snatch victory away from them. Others think too much power is being given away by London.

At the same time, Prime Minister David Cameron used his last visit to Scotland before a historic independence referendum this week to implore Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom, warning on Monday that a breakaway vote would be irreversible.

With opinion polls suggesting the referendum remains too close to call, Cameron, the leader of the ruling Conservative party, which draws most of its support from England, pleaded with voters not to use the referendum as a protest vote.

"There's no going back from this. No re-run. If Scotland votes 'yes' the UK will split and we will go our separate ways forever," he told an audience packed with Conservative party supporters in Aberdeen, the centre of Scotland's oil industry.

"Don't think: I'm frustrated with politics right now, so I'll walk out the door. If you don't like me I won't be here forever. If you don't like this government it won't last forever. But if you leave the UK that will be forever."

Cameron's trip was a last-ditch effort to try to persuade Scotland's many undecided voters to reject independence. Up to 500,000 people out of more than 4 million registered voters are estimated to be unsure how they will vote.

Campaigning in Scotland is fraught with difficulty for Cameron, whose right-leaning party is unpopular with Scots who have traditionally voted for the left-leaning opposition Labour party and harbour bitter memories of former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher's 1979-1990 stint in power.

Cameron's Conservatives have only one of 59 British parliamentary seats in Scotland, and the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has elbowed Labour aside in recent years to emerge as the dominant political force.

Out of four recent polls, three showed those in favour of maintaining the union had 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.

The question on the ballot paper will ask simply: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"