Britain promised to guarantee Scotland’s high levels of state funding, granting Scots control over healthcare spending in a last-ditch attempt to shore up support for the United Kingdom before Thursday’s vote on independence.
With polls showing the decision on the fate of the United Kingdom is too close to call, welfare spending and the future of Britain’s revered National Health System have formed a central part of nationalist Alex Salmond’s case for secession.
In a deal brokered by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties said they would retain the funding equation that sustains a higher level of public spending north of the border.
“People want to see change,” said the agreement, published in Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper and signed by Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
“A no vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation,” the agreement said.
Scottish-born Brown, who has already outlined a timetable to grant more powers to Scotland, is taking a leading role in trying to convince wavering voters to shun independence.
Cameron, whose job is on the line if Scots vote to break the United Kingdom, warned on his last visit to Scotland that there would be no going back and that any separation could be painful.
But London’s rush to grant more powers to Scotland in an attempt to pull voters behind the union risks stoking anger among both voters and lawmakers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where such guarantees are unlikely to be given.
Seeking to tap into a cocktail of historical rivalry, opposing political tastes, and a perception that London has mismanaged Scotland for decades, nationalists say an independent Scotland could build a wealthier and fairer country.
Unionists say independence would needlessly breakup the United Kingdom and usher in years of financial, economic and political uncertainty. They have warned that Scotland would not keep the pound as part of a formal currency union.