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Scottish independence campaign gaining ground ahead of historic referendum, polls suggest

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A general view of people walking along the Royal Mile on February 21, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A favourite with visitors and one of the busiest streets in the city, the Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle at the top down to Holyrood Palace at the foot.

EDINBURGH,Scottlant (CNN) — With less than two weeks to go until Scotland’s referendum, polls suggest an increase in those favoring independence from the United Kingdom, with one survey for the first time putting the “yes” vote ahead.

On September 18, voters in Scotland will be presented with a simple yes/no question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

A “yes” vote would mean Scotland splits from the rest of the United Kingdom — that is, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Activists on both sides are stepping up their efforts as the historic referendum approaches.

A YouGov poll conducted for The Sunday Times and released on Sunday showed the “yes” vote at 51% and “no” at 49%. The poll of 1084 voters excluded undecided voters and YouGov said the numbers represented “a statistical dead heat.”

YouGov President Peter Kellner said a 2-point gap was too small to call the outcome of the referendum but demonstrated that support for the “Better Together” campaign had fallen “at an astonishing rate.” Four weeks ago YouGov put “no” at 58% and “yes” at 42%, Kellner said.

“The Yes campaign has not just invaded No territory; it has launched a blitzkrieg,” he said.

Kellner said voters from the Conservative party had continued to oppose independence but that all other voters had moved closer toward a breakaway Scotland.

Meantime a Panelbase poll commissioned by Yes Scotland and also released Sunday suggested that 48% of voters supported independence — excluding undecideds — while 52% wanted to remain united.

A “poll of polls” carried out by ScotCen — before the latest YouGov and Panelbase surveys — put the “yes” vote for independence at 47% and the “no” vote at 53%. The company, which describes itself as an independent social research center, said those results were based on three polls from YouGov, two from Panelbase and one from Survation.

Negative campaign?

The Scottish government, led by the Scottish National Party, says this is a “once in a generation opportunity” for Scotland’s people to take control of the decisions that affect them most. A “yes” vote means that “Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands,” it says, and that life will be better and fairer for its people.

Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Alec Salmond has been a vocal proponent of independence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants Scotland to remain part of an undivided United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He says that it is a decision solely for the Scottish people — but that remaining part of the United Kingdom will give them security and strength. “There will be no going back,” he warns.

YouGov said voters felt that the Better Together campaign had been negative, while Salmond was “offering an optimistic future.”

“It may be that some voters are finding the prospect of voting for positive and well-presented vision of their country’s future as more attractive than the negative mood coming from the No camp,” ScotCen commented.

Pound sinks

The British pound sank on Monday, with CNNMoney reporting that it reflected uncertainty over the outcome of the Scottish referendum and an increased risk of a “messy divorce.”

Salmond has said he wants Scotland to continue to use the pound in a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom.

But the three main parties in Parliament — David Cameron’s Conservatives, their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, and Labour — have all said that won’t be an option.

The referendum could end Scotland’s 300-year union with England and Wales as Great Britain and see it launch into the world as an independent nation of some 5.3 million people.

The Scottish government anticipates it would become formally independent in March 2016, ahead of elections in May of that year.

Scotland has long had a testy relationship with its more populous neighbor. The Act of Union in 1707 joined the kingdom of Scotland with England and Wales, but many Scots were unhappy at being yoked to their longtime rival south of the border.

Since 1999, Scotland has had devolved government, meaning many, but not all, decisions are made at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. In May 2011 the nationalist SNP, which had campaigned on a promise to hold an independence referendum, surprised many by winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament.

In October 2012, the UK and Scottish governments agreed that the referendum would be held, and the question to be put to voters was agreed on early last year.

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