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Seize this opportunity: Salmond

The referendum will be the "most exciting day in Scottish democracy", Alex Salmond declared as he called on voters to "seize the opportunity" and back independence.

The First Minister made a passionate appeal at the end of what had been a final, frenetic day of campaigning in the run up to the historic ballot.

A new poll earlier tonight put the Yes campaign narrowly behind its rival No, with 49% of people favouring independence and 51% wanting Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom.

Mr Salmond said that meant the pro-independence campaign is still the "underdog" in the referendum.

He told a packed rally of 1,500 Yes activists at Perth Concert Hall: "Therefore it beholds each and every one of us to campaign with our utmost till 10 o'clock tomorrow evening to persuade our fellow citizens that independence is the right road forward for Scotland."

He added: "Let us send a message to everyone watching, listening and deciding across Scotland - tomorrow is our opportunity of a lifetime.

"This is our opportunity of a lifetime and we must seize it with both hands."

Mr Salmond began his crucial speech by declaring the Yes movement to be the " greatest campaign in Scottish democratic history".

He then told cheering supporters, many of whom were waving Saltire flags: "It follows therefore that you are the greatest campaigners in Scottish democratic history."

His address came on the " eve of the most exciting day in Scottish democracy", he said.

Earlier in the day, former prime minister Gordon Brown - who has been key in securing a fast- tracked pledge for more powers for Holyrood if the result is No - made a passionate appeal to Scots to vote to stay in the union.

He told a Better Together rally in Glasgow that the SNP's main aim is to ''break every single constitutional and political link with our neighbours and friends in the United Kingdom''.

But Mr Brown insisted: ''We will not have this.''

The Labour MP said of tomorrow's referendum: ''The silent majority will be silent no more.''

Meanwhile, as opinion polls continue to suggest that the referendum contest is going down to the wire, Mr Salmond said: "We are still the underdogs in this campaign.

"Each and every one of us has a job tomorrow to convince our fellow citizens to vote by a majority for a new dawn for Scotland, for that land of prosperity but also of fairness."

His message to the remaining undecided voters was a simple one - don't give the power Scotland now has back to Westminster.

Mr Salmond said: "T omorrow for a few precious hours during polling day the people of Scotland hold in our hands the exclusive, sovereign power to define our nation for good.

"It's the greatest, most empowering moment that any of us will ever have. Scotland's future, our country, in our hands.

"For my part I ask only this - make this decision with a clear head and a clear conscious. Know that by voting Yes we take into our hands a responsibility like no other, the responsibility to work together to make Scotland a better nation."

To the people of Scotland at this "very special time", the First Minister told them: "W e have the opportunity, we have the chance to create a more prosperous economy certainly, but also to create a fairer society.

"We want to wake up on Friday the first day of creating a better country, knowing that we did this, we made it happen."

He added: "This opportunity is truly historic. There are men and women all over Scotland looking in the mirror knowing that the moment has come. It's our choice and our opportunity and our time."

The SNP leader stressed: " We are still the underdogs in this campaign, each and every one of us has a job tomorrow to convince our fellow citizens to vote by majority for a new dawn for Scotland, for that land of prosperity but also of fairness."

Mr Salmond told how the referendum campaign had "changed Scotland forever" bringing "confidence" and "belief" to the nation, as well as an "understanding that by working together Scotland can be a global success story, a beacon of economic growth, a champion of social justice".

He declared: "That is who we are as a nation."

The First Minister argued that "S cotland's success can only be asserted when poverty for so many is replaced with employment and opportunity for so many".

He added: " Our pledge to Scotland is in the Scotland we seek no-one should be left behind. As a nation we stand and fall together."

Mr Salmond said if the referendum tomorrow results in a No vote he would " accept that result with dignity and with respect".

But he added: "I f the vote is Yes I have no doubt whatsoever there will cease to be a No campaign and a Yes campaign. There shall be a Team Scotland to take this nation forward."

The First Minister has already urged his political rivals - including Better Together leader Alistair Darling - to join the team that would negotiate on independence with Westminster.

As well as seeking to appeal to voters in the referendum, he also used his speech to try to reassure those south of the border that if Scotland left the UK it would continue to be a friend and ally.

Mr Salmond stated: " To our friends in the rest of these islands I say this - all we seek is a relationship of equality and friendship. A new, better, harmonious relationship founded on our enduring bonds of family and culture.

"In an independent Scotland you will find your closest friend, most honest counsel and most committed ally. What we seek is a relationship of equals to our mutual advantage."

Mr Salmond said that while so many countries had had to struggle for their independence, people in Scotland simply need to "put a cross on a piece of paper".

But he said the Westminster parties - who are now offering more powers for Holyrood if Scotland votes No - had only agreed to the referendum "because they thought they had it in the bag".

He told independence campaigners: " They thought all they had to do was agree to it, see off Scotland and it wouldn't matter. Therefore we can have no assurance that we will ever have such a chance again."

He went on to thank Yes supporters from Labour, the Greens, the trade union movement, the business community, and those campaigners of no political persuasion.

"What unites us is hope for the future," the First Minister said.

"What inspires us is having the dignity of being an equal nation, and what will drive us tomorrow and in the days that follow, is a passion for a better Scotland.

"If we win tomorrow, and that is in the hands of the people, it will be because thousands of individuals across the communities of Scotland have become leaders in these communities.

"What we have proven in this campaign is that every person in this land, in this nation matters.

"Because that grassroots engagement, the like of which no one has ever seen before, this is the greatest democratic experience in the history of Scotland."

Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also addressed the rally, telling activists: " Friends, here we are standing on the cusp of our moment in history."

She said the campaign for a Yes vote had been "t he campaign of my life" and added: " This has been a wonderful campaign. We can say with confidence that before the polls open tomorrow morning at 7am our country has already changed forever and for the better."

Ms Sturgeon said the country had "come alive" and democracy had "reawakened".

She told supporters: "The road to this moment has been a long and winding one, and many of the people who started down this road many, many years before I was born are not with us to cast their vote tomorrow.

"When I cast mine I will think of them and I will do so with respect and with gratitude, but more than that I will think of the next generation.

"Because it is for my niece and my nephews and for every child in this country that I will vote Yes. It is to give them a better future."

In his address this morning Mr Brown had stressed the No campaign's " patriotic vision", insisted those who favoured the union were still "pro ud of our Scottish identity'' and were also ''proud of the Scottish Parliament that we, not the nationalist party, created''.

With more powers for Holyrood on offer in the event of a No vote, he said the pro-UK campaign were " proud also that we are increasing the powers of that parliament'".

The change that will come if Scotland stays in the union would be ''faster, safer, better, friendlier change than ever the nationalists could have proposed''.

Mr Brown continued: ''The vote tomorrow is not about whether Scotland is a nation - we are, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

''It's not about whether there is a Scottish Parliament - we have it.

''It's not about whether there are increased powers, we are all agreed to increase the powers.

''The vote tomorrow is whether you want to break and sever every link, and I say let's keep our UK pensions, let's keep our UK pound, let's keep our UK passports, let's keep our UK welfare state.''

He added that the UK had fought and won wars together, had ''built the peace together'', as well as establishing the National Health Service and the welfare state together.

''We will build the future together,'' he said.

''What we have built together, by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder ever.''

Similarly Mr Darling also insisted the offer of more powers from the three Westminster parties was a better option than the ''years of wrangling and uncertainty'' that would follow a Yes vote.

He said: ''A vote to say No is a vote to keep the currency, a vote to say No is to safeguard the payment of pensions, a vote to say No is to guarantee the funding and the strength of our National Health Service.

''A vote to say No is a vote, too, for a stronger, strengthened Scottish Parliament with control over key services like health, like education, to make Scotland stronger, sooner and safer.

''Far better than years of wrangling of uncertainty that would follow a vote for separation.''

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