By Angus MacSwan
EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The rival campaigns in Scotland's fight over independence are running neck-and-neck nine days before the referendum, with a surge in support for those who wish to break away from the United Kingdom, a TNS poll showed on Tuesday.
The number of people saying they would vote "No" to independence had dropped to 39 percent, down from 45 percent a month ago. "Yes" support was slightly behind at 38 percent but had gained ground from 32 percent a month ago.
"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."
The poll follows one in a Sunday newspaper that 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.The late rally by the "Yes" campaign led by Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party, the ruling party in Scotland, now makes the break–up of the United Kingdom - previously thought to be a pipedream - a distinct possibility after a 300-year-old union.
In an attempt to turn a trend that could herald the end of the United Kingdom, Britain's most prominent politicians scrambled to offer Scots more powers.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scottish-born Labour politician who has been vilified by the ruling Conservatives for presiding over the 2008 economic crisis, offered a timetable for the devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament.
Prime Minister David Cameron's job could be on the line if Scotland voted for independence in the Sept. 18 referendum.
But the Conservative leader has been largely absent from the debate after conceding that his privileged 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 not to break the union.
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 U.K. parliament by January 2015.
It would strengthen the Scottish Parliament, giving it 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. 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?"
The intervention by Brown, who remains popular in Scotland, was welcomed by Britain's three main political parties and a Downing Street source.
Polls which show the unionist lead evaporated in late August as traditionally unionist Labour party supporters switched to support independence have sown concern bordering on panic within the British ruling elite.
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband even called on people across the United Kingdom to fly the white-on-blue Scottish Saltire flag to send a gesture of unity to Scots.
"We want cities, towns and villages across the UK to fly the Saltire and send a message to Scotland: stay with us," Miliband said in a statement.
'TOO CLOSE TOO CALL'
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 in 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 TNS poll showed 41 percent of women surveyed intended to vote "No" compared to 35 percent for "Yes". However, the "No" figure was a drop from 49 percent a month ago, while the "Yes" vote among women had risen from 27 percent, the poll said.
The proportion of undecided voters had risen from 16 percent to 18 percent - a figure that implied about 600,000 people intended to vote but had not decided which way to go.
The independence question has provoked months of impassioned debate in Scotland from business boardrooms to grassroots 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, they say.
Advocates of staying in the union say the country is stronger as part of a bigger entity. Going it alone would put it in a precarious economic position, with questions over what currency it would use, its continuing membership of the European Union and NATO, and how much oil is actually left in the North Sea to fill the national coffers, they say.
(Writing by Angus MacSwan and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Peter Graff)