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British PM, Opposition Leader to Travel to Scotland

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Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, center, poses with supporters of the "Yes Campaign" in Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept. 9, 2014.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, center, poses with supporters of the "Yes Campaign" in Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept. 9, 2014.

Britain's prime minister and main opposition leader canceled their weekly showdown in Parliament to unite Wednesday in a last-minute bid to persuade Scottish voters to reject independence.

Prime Minister David Cameron implored Scots on Tuesday not to vote for independence in next week's referendum, pledging to do everything he could to keep the United Kingdom together.

Labour leader Ed Miliband also will skip Wednesday's scheduled House of Commons faceoff.

The two will travel separately to Scotland, but they said “our message to the Scottish people will be simple: `We want you to stay.' “

Two recent polls suggest a surge in Scottish support for breaking away from the United Kingdom, which has rattled Britain's political leaders.

A referendum on independence, set for September 18, is too close to call, a poll showed on Tuesday, as London scrambled to shore up the 307-year union by pledging more autonomy to Scotland.

Polls show surge

In a poll released Tuesday, the number of people saying they would vote “No” to independence fell to 39 percent from 45 percent a month ago while “Yes” support leapt to 38 percent from 32 percent.

“This poll reveals a remarkable shift in voting intentions,” said Tom Costley, head of TNS Scotland. “It is too close to call and both sides will now be energized to make the most of the last few days of the campaign and try and persuade the undecided voters of the merits of their respective campaigns."

TNS Scotland gave the unionists a 13-point lead in August.

The fate of the United Kingdom is in the balance after a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times put the pro-independence camp slightly ahead for the first time this year and led to a fall in the pound and British share prices.

Sterling held near a 10-month low on Tuesday.

The late surge by the “Yes” campaign led by Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party, the ruling party in Edinburgh, makes a break-up - long seen as a pipedream - a distinct possibility.

British promise more powers

In a last-ditch attempt to head off growing separatist support, Britain's three main political parties united on Tuesday to promise greater powers for Scotland if it rejects independence in next week's referendum, steps nationalists said betrayed panic within the British elite.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scottish Labor politician vilified by the ruling Conservatives for presiding over the 2008 economic crisis, proposed a timetable for the devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Brown, who remains popular in Scotland, set out a timetable on Monday to transfer new powers over income tax and welfare spending to the devolved government in Edinburgh, promising that new draft legislation could be ready as soon as January.

At a press conference in Edinburgh on Tuesday, the leaders of the Scottish Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties united to endorse the plan.

"It's possible to vote 'No' on September 18 as a patriotic choice, but also to say that you're voting for change and more powers for the Scottish parliament," said Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

But Salmond, the SNP leader, said the "panicky" unionists were merely re-packaging proposals published earlier this year.

"I think today what we've seen is the disintegration of the 'No' campaign," he told reporters at a rally in Edinburgh. "A back-of-an-envelope non-plan to cobble something together at the last minute because they're losing this election."

Salmond added: "We are extremely confident of victory but we're not over-confident and we are going to be working flat out."

Cameron's job could be at risk if Scots voted for independence in the September 18 referendum.

Negotiations

Following an independence vote, Britain and Scotland would face 18 months of negotiations over how to carve up everything from North Sea oil and the pound to European Union membership and Britain's main nuclear submarine base.

Up until Tuesday, Cameron has been largely absent from the debate after conceding that his privileged English background and center-right politics mean he is not the best person to win over Scots, usually more left-wing than the English.

That has left the opposition Labour party with much of the burden of trying to convince Scots to stick with the union.

However, on Tuesday, Cameron said that he would make every effort to persuade the Scots to stay when he traveled there on Wednesday.

“The right place to be isn't in Westminster at Prime Minister's questions; it's being in Scotland listening to people, talking to people,” he said.

“In the end, it is for the Scottish people to decide, but I want them to know that the rest of the United Kingdom - and I speak as Prime Minister - want them to stay," Cameron added.

Polls show the “No” camp's lead evaporated in late August as many traditionally unionist Labor voters switched toward backing independence.

Speaking for the unionist campaign in a miners' welfare club in central Midlothian on Monday evening, Brown said discussions over further powers would begin the day after a “No” vote, with legislation put before the British parliament by January 2015.

It would give the Scottish Parliament more power over welfare, finance, social and economic policy, he said.

“This moves us as close to federalism as we can,” said Brown, one of the only British politicians that nationalist leader Salmond is said to fear.

“Scotland is already a nation,” Brown said. “We are proud of our history and culture. Do we want to sever all constitutional links with our friends, our neighbors, our relatives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

Poll specifics

The TNS poll of 990 people, carried out between Aug. 27 and Sept. 4, found a surge in the number who said they were certain to vote to 84 percent. Among those certain to vote, “No” and “Yes” were tied on 41 percent compared with 46 percent and 38 percent respectively the previous month.

Women - previously seen as cautious about independence - showed a strong move towards a “Yes” vote. There was also an increased likelihood to vote “Yes” amongst those aged under 55.

The proportion of undecided voters rose from 16 percent to 18 percent, implying that implied about 600,000 people intend to vote but have not decided which way to go.

The independence question has provoked months of impassioned debate in Scotland from boardrooms to street campaigns.

Proponents of independence say it is time for Scotland to run its own affairs and choose its own leaders rather than be ruled from London. An independent Scotland can use its North Sea oil revenue to create a prosperous and fairer society instead of the British government's welfare cuts, they say.

Advocates of staying in the union say the country is stronger as part of a bigger entity and that going it alone would put it in a precarious economic position.

Queen's position

Queen Elizabeth II has remained officially neutral about Scottish independence, and the nationalists said they want to keep the monarch as their head of state.

But media reports at the weekend suggested she was privately "horrified" at the possible break-up of the United Kingdom.

Salmond, who met the queen at her Scottish estate at Balmoral two weeks ago, brushed off the reports.

"I think Her Majesty The Queen, who has seen so many events in the course of her long reign, will be proud to be the queen of Scots as indeed we have been proud to have her as monarch of this land," he said.

Some information for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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