Party leaders stake all on Scottish independence campaigning

Westminster's party leaders have been making an 11th-hour bid to win over wavering Scottish voters, with a strategy of emphasising change is on the way for Scotland regardless of next week's independence referendum.

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are gambling that their decision to put partisan politics to one side in order to campaign will look like they care about Britain – and not that they are panicking after weekend polling wiped out the 'no' campaign's longstanding lead.

"Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: We want you to stay," Cameron wrote in an article for the Mail newspaper.

"Together, the United Kingdom embodies the values the world looks on with awe and envy."

He adopted a more informal approach on the campaign trail, saying it was wrong to see the referendum as a chance to protest against the "effing Tories".

"Sometimes people can feel it's a bit like a general election, you make a decision and five years later you can make another decision; if you're fed up with the effing Tories, give them a kick and then maybe we'll think again," the prime minister said in Edinburgh.

"This is totally different to a general election … This is not a decision about the next five years, but the next century."

Ed Miliband spoke in Glasgow, emerging as one of the key battlegrounds of the referendum campaign.

He linked Scottish values with Labour values and suggested his party would act to reverse many of the unpopular measures inflicted on Scotland by the coalition government.

"The people of Scotland, whether they intend to vote no or yes, have established beyond doubt in this campaign that there needs to be profound economic and political change," Miliband said.

"Let me say: this thirst for change is shared across the United Kingdom. We cannot carry on with an economy that only works for a few people at the top and doesn’t work for most people."

Nick Clegg, who was on the campaign trail in Selkirk earlier, also emphasised reform was on the way, arguing that major changes were coming to the whole of Britain regardless of next week's decision by Scotland.

"Whatever the result on the 18th – even if Scotland votes to remain part of the United Kingdom – the status quo is gone not only for Scotland but the whole of the United Kingdom," he insisted.

But Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have been mocked by the Scottish National party, whose leader Alex Salmond has poured scorn on them by offering to pay their bus fare.

"Collectively, they are the least trusted Westminster leaders ever, and this day trip will galvanise the 'Yes' vote," he said.

"No-one believes their panicked pledges – it is a phoney timetable for measly powers. A 'Yes' vote delivers a real timetable for the full powers that Scotland needs."

In Westminster, leader of the Commons William Hague and Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman stood in for their superiors across the despatch boxes in the Commons.

Harman declared that the opposition benches "want Scotland to stay", before Hague warned Scottish voters next Thursday's poll "is a permanent decision that will affect generations… it is the most important vote that can be cast in any country at any time".

The absent Cameron, who has largely stayed away from the independence debate because of his Etonian background, had more or less surrendered the stage to his predecessor in No 10 Gordon Brown before today's trip.

Brown remains hugely popular north of the border and gave a passionate speech yesterday. He came close to tears and talked about the death of his baby daughter Jennifer, who died in 2002 just ten days old.

"When my daughter died, it was a result of not being able to do anything to save her life and my respect for the National Health Service grew as a result of the experience that Sarah and I had," Brown said.

"Do you think that I or anybody else who cares about the National Health Service would stand by and do nothing if we thought the National Health Service was going to be privatised in Scotland and its funds were going to be cut? Would we stand back and do nothing without a fight? Of course not!"

Brown's heightened involvement – and his apparently impromptu outlining of a timetable for more devolution in the event of a 'no' vote, which was swiftly endorsed by the party leaders – is viewed by many as confirmation that the lacklustre campaigning of Alistair Darling has not proved sufficient to safeguard the 307-year-old union.

Another former prime minister, Sir John Major, said this morning he was "desperately concerned by what is happening" and warned that the political leaders were failing to make Scottish voters realise the immense implications of voting 'yes' next Thursday.

"We'd be immensely weaker as a nation, in every respect," he told the Today programme.

"It seems to me almost incredible: suddenly, Scots who work next to us, live next to us, are our friends, our neighbours, our workmates, would suddenly become foreigners."

Major highlighted the dangers of leaving the UK in order to attempt to join the European Union, which he suggested could reject Scotland outright.

"They'd be five million people among 500 million people, and in a much weaker position to influence Scotland's interests," he added.

He also suggested it would not make sense for Scotland to be permitted to join Nato because of Salmond's opposition to nuclear weapons and scoffed at the first minister's approach to currency union with the rest of the UK.

"I've never known such incompetence, for someone to propose independence and not know what currency they're going to use," Major said. "It's extraordinary."

Bank of England governor Mark Carney made clear yesterday he believed a currency union would be incompatible with Scottish independence.

It underlines the declaration from the three party leaders that an independent Scotland would have to find an alternative to the pound.

Meanwhile the Queen's lack of involvement in the campaign has also been called into question.

Buckingham Palace has rebuffed suggestions from some – including Labour MP Simon Danczuk and Conservative MP Henry Bellingham – that the monarch should make clear her private views opposing Scottish independence.

"The monarch is above politics and those in political office have a duty to ensure that this remains the case," a spokesperson said.

"Any suggestion that the Queen would wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong. Her Majesty is firmly of the view that this is a matter for the people of Scotland."

It remains to be seen whether the party leaders' trip to Scotland will succeed in restoring the 'no' campaign's longstanding lead.

The weekend's Sunday Times/YouGov poll put 'yes' on 51% and 'no' on 49%, after undecideds were excluded, while a TNS-BMRB survey gave the 'no' camp a one-point lead of 39% to 38%.

Salmond added: "If David Cameron thinks he is the answer to the No campaign's disintegration disarray, let him put his case to the test in a head-to-head debate."