EDINBURGH (Reuters) — The battle over Scottish independence took a bitter turn on Saturday when a senior nationalist warned businesses such as BP that they could face punishment for voicing concern over the impact of secession.
With the fate of the United Kingdom balanced on a knife edge, the economic future of Scotland has become one the most fiercely debated issues five days before Scots decide on whether to break away.
Nationalists accuse British Prime Minister David Cameron of coordinating a scare campaign by business leaders aimed at spooking voters while unionists say separation is fraught with financial and economic uncertainty.
But former Scottish Nationalist Party deputy leader Jim Sillars went much further than separatist leader Alex Salmond, warning that BP's operations in Scotland might face nationalisation if Scots voted for secession on Sept. 18.
"This referendum is about power, and when we get a 'Yes' majority we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks," Sillars, a nationalist rival of Salmond's, was quoted by Scottish media as saying.
"BP, in an independent Scotland, will need to learn the meaning of nationalisation, in part or in whole, as it has in other countries who have not been as soft as we have been forced to be," Sillars said.
When asked about the comments in a BBC interview on Saturday, Sillars confirmed he had raised the prospect of nationalisation but said he had used the term to get media coverage and that nationalisation was not on the table.
A spokesman for BP declined to comment but the boss of BP, Bob Dudley, has said that Scottish independence could cause his company "uncertainties" and that he did not want to see Scotland drifting away
Major banks, oil companies and supermarkets have said that a vote for secession would create concern. North Sea oil would have to be divided up while there is uncertainty over the future currency and central bank of an independent Scotland.
Salmond did not slap down Sillars but struck a softer tone.
"Mr Cameron and his Tory friends in Downing Street and the Labour front men in Scotland are going to get their comeuppance next Thursday because Scotland is going to vote yes in very substantial proportions," Salmond said.
"It's unfortunate that a number of businesses have allowed themselves to be recruited by David Cameron and Downing Street but let me say, after a 'Yes' vote, and we are going to get one, it is incumbent on us to reach out everyone and build that atmosphere of 'Team Scotland'."
Salmond demanded an investigation into what he said was an attempt by Britain's government to scare voters out of backing independence.
In an extraordinarily strong attack on business, Sillars said banks such as Standard Life would face tougher employment laws after a vote for independence.
Until September, all polls but one in 2013 had shown the unionists with a comfortable lead but several surveys this month show the nationalists have won over hundreds of thousands of Scotland's 4 million voters.
A Survation poll on behalf of the pro-union Better Together campaign found support for staying in the United Kingdom was at 54 per cent, while 46 per cent were planning to vote for independence on Sept. 18, once those where undecided were excluded.
Emotions are running high on the final weekend before the vote which is expected to have record turnout for a Scottish election.
From the windswept islands of the Atlantic to the inner city estates of Glasgow, Scots are debating whether to vote 'Yes' or 'No' to the ballot paper question they will be asked on Thursday: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
About 12,000 Protestant unionists, including contingents from Northern Ireland, marched through Edinburgh's Old Town on Saturday in an emotional show of support for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom.
With fife and drum bands, bowler hats and orange sashes, the marchers said the referendum on Scottish independence, which takes place this Thursday, threatened their culture and history.
"It's your own history being taken away from you. What will you tell your grandchildren?" said Jim Prentice, a gardener, wearing a Rangers soccer club shirt, who had travelled from south of Glasgow to watch the march.
Organised by the Orange Order of Scotland, the march demonstrated that the anti-independence campaign could count on a solid, substantial, bloc of votes in Glasgow,Scotland largest city and the main battleground of the campaign.
But it also injected a sectarian element with a bitter and sometimes violent history into the campaign. The Order is linked to the Northern Ireland Protestant "loyalist" organizations and many lodges had crossed over the Irish Sea for the event.
Rivalry between Catholics and Protestants — famously manifested by supporters of Glasgow's Celtic and Rangers soccer clubs — has often been a blight on Scottish society.
The pro-independence campaign was also pulling out all the stops across the country.
"I think it's probably the biggest day of campaigning Scotland's ever seen. It's enormous," Calum Cashley, a "Yes" campaigner and SNP activist, told Reuters.
"I'm running Edinburgh Eastern constituency today, and we leafletted the entire constituency, we've had sweet stalls, people putting posters up in their windows, it's just been enormous. We're seeing cars go by bedecked with 'Yes' posters and stickers. It's amazing. It's a great feeling and buzz."
Deutsche bank warning
Deutsche Bank said a vote for independence would be a mistake akin to Winston Churchill's decision to return the pound to the Gold Standard or the failure of the Federal Reserve to provide sufficient liquidity to the U.S. banks, decisions that helped bring on the Great Depression.
"These decisions...contributed to years of depression and suffering and could have been avoided had alternative decisions been taken," David Folkerts-Landau, Deutsche's chief economist, said in a note to clients.
"Foreign investors come to Scotland because they rely on a predictable investment environment. All of this comes from a united Great Britain," German-born Folkerts-Landau said, adding that the desire to break up the UK was 'incomprehensible'
Such is the gravity of the situation that finance minister George Osborne, Britain's second most powerful man, cancelled a trip to the G20 meeting in Cairns which takes place the weekend after the vote. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will leave the G20 meeting early.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair said he hoped Scotland voted to stay part of the United Kingdom.
"To rip up the alliance between our countries would not be sensible, politically, economically or even emotionally," Blair, who was born in Scotland, said at a security conference in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Investors pulled $27 billion out of British financial assets last month - the biggest capital outflow since the Lehman crisis in 2008 - as concern mounted over the fate of the United Kingdom, a report by London-based consultancy CrossBorder Capital showed.
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