Supporters of keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom have clawed back a tiny lead over separatists less than a week before Scots vote in an independence referendum that is balanced on a knife edge, opinion surveys showed on Friday.
A YouGov survey for The Times put Scottish unionists on 52 percent with separatists on 48 percent while a Guardian/ICM poll put unionists on 51 percent and separatists on 49 percent, excluding those who said they did not know how they would vote.
"The 'no' campaign has moved back into the lead in Scotland's referendum campaign," YouGov President Peter Kellner said in a commentary on the survey.
"This is the first time 'no' has gained ground since early August." The indication that support for keeping the United Kingdom intact has drawn slightly ahead in Scotland is of only meagre comfort to unionists; the broader picture painted by recent surveys is that the vote is still too close to call.
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.
Pollsters have shown a surge in support for independence since late August as the secessionist campaign led by Alex Salmond won over supporters of the traditionally unionist Labour party and some female voters in Scotland.
The erosion of the strong unionist lead has prompted investors to sell sterling, shares in companies with Scottish exposure and British government bonds on fears that the United Kingdom might break up.
Sterling has fallen 2.5 percent against the U.S. dollar this month while the cost of hedging against near-term swings in value by the British pound jumped to four-year highs on Friday.
Investors pulled $27 billion out of UK 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.
In the event of a vote for independence on Sept. 18, Britain and Scotland would have to begin work on dividing up the $2.5 trillion UK economy, North Sea oil and the national debt, while Prime Minister David Cameron would face calls to resign.
Scotland says it will use the pound after independence but London has ruled out a formal currency union, while Britain will have to decide what to do about its main nuclear submarine base on the Clyde, which the nationalists don't want.
So far only one poll this year, from YouGov last weekend, has put the separatists in front. That survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 to 3 percentage points, showed a 2 percentage point lead for the independence campaign.
The polls showing a swing in support to the nationalists sowed fear in the British ruling elite: Cameron rushed to Edinburgh on Wednesday where he begged Scots not to break his heart by destroying the United Kingdom's "family of nations".
In a hurried attempt to win back support for the union, the Labour Party sent dozens of lawmakers to Scotland, where it is the only political force that rivals the Scottish nationalists.