TWO weeks today, Scotland goes to the polls to make its biggest decision for more than three centuries. After a build-up of more than two years, voters will finally come face to face with the ballot paper asking them to choose between independence or sticking with the United Kingdom.
And according to the polls, it looks like a close result. A YouGov survey earlier this week showed No on 53 per cent support and Yes on 47 per cent, meaning pro-independence campaigners need a swing of just 3 per cent to win.
Un-named senior figures in the cross-party Better Together campaign have been quoted saying that for the first time they are beginning to think it is possible they could lose.
Politicians and pundits predict a big turnout – Alex Salmond says he expects it to be around 80 per cent, compared with 51 per cent at the last Holyrood elections in 2011. The importance of the decision does not seem to be lost on anyone.
Many Yes campaigners believe the key to victory lies in Scotland’s large working-class communities, where many people often do not vote. An analysis of more than 18,000 doorstep chats in 90 less well-off areas across the country by the Radical Independence Campaign found two-thirds backing for Yes, much higher than elsewhere.
This support is more or less under the radar – opinion polls which rely on phone interviews or online questionnaires will probably not pick up the views of people in these areas. Jim Sillars is also busy campaigning with the Margomobile in working-class communities across the Central Belt, taking the late Lothian MSP’s message on independence direct to local people.
But the pro-independence campaign needs not only to convince these voters, but also crucially make sure they turn out. If this is indeed the group which is key to winning, the well-oiled Yes machine will no doubt be raring to go on polling day to ensure just that.
Of course, many people have already had their say by postal vote. In Edinburgh, a record 85,000 postal votes are expected, more than double the 40,000 postal votes dispatched at the European elections earlier this year.
The narrowing of the polls suggests the final result – expected to be declared around 7am the day after the vote – could be on a knife edge.
After a period of little apparent change in voting intentions, Yes campaigners believe the momentum is now with them, though they still insist they are the underdogs going into the final stages of the referendum.
The first televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling was a setback for the pro-independence campaign when the First Minister failed to perform as well as expected. But he made up for it in the second debate, in which everyone agreed he came out on top.
The No camp, which was boosted by Mr Darling’s unexpected triumph in the first TV showdown, has since been heavily criticised – even by some of its own supporters – over the “patronising” and “sexist” video showing a mother sitting at her kitchen table trying to decide how to vote.
As the day nears, both sides will be increasingly nervous about last-minute gaffes and eager to persuade every last voter of the merits of their case. So will opinions edge further towards Yes and deliver an independent Scotland? One senior SNP politician predicted early on in the campaign: “If it’s going to happen, it might well happen right at the end.”