On the streets of Scotland, the polls mean nothing

Spend the day talking to Scottish voters in Glasgow, Edinburgh and West Lothian, and it's hard to avoid one unmistakeable conclusion: these polls are deeply misleading.

The starkness of the numbers has been watched with grim urgency from the newsrooms of London. An eight-point gap, narrowing to a six-point gap, narrowing to a four-point gap just hours before the only poll that counts gets underway. It shows the momentum of the campaign is with 'Yes'. But what it doesn't reveal is the indecision gripping many members of the public.

"If I was voting with my heart I'd vote yes," says Jessica, pushing a pram outside a shopping mall in Livingston. "If I was voting with my head I'd say no. Who doesn't want to be independent? Freedom for Scotland makes a lot of sense. But thinking from the head in terms of pensions, Scotland wanting to keep the pound and Westminster and saying no, it just doesn't fully add up. So I'm still torn. And I know it's on Thursday!"

Her agonising encapsulates the dilemma of the undecideds. They are frustrated with the campaign. "I'm fed up," one man barks out at me. Two ladies out for a walk by Blackness Castle, a beauty spot on the south bank of the Firth of Forth, are more gently dismissive. ""It's gone on too long," one laments. "How much of a risk is it? I do want independence in a way… but I think I'll always be undecided. It'll be luck on the day, I think."

This is exactly the kind of voter the No campaign is relying on to save the day. They are wavering and unconvinced, but it's hard to imagine them suddenly becoming inspired enough to vote Yes.

Much of the talk of the 'Yes' campaign's hoodlums is exaggerated. Outside Clydebank Town Hall, where Gordon Brown is delivering yet another impassioned speech, a group of 'Yes' and 'No' supporters have gathered. This is politics at a small scale, the kind of confrontation that doesn't make it anywhere near our TV screens. There are two policemen keeping an eye on a group of around ten 'Yes' voters and ten 'Nos'. The numbers balance out when a group of old ladies wearing 'no thanks' stickers show up a bit late.

They don't shout barbs at each other. They don't even talk much. The old ladies make disparaging marks about the 'Yes' group "not being able to string a sentence together". But they refuse to speak to me, whereas the nationalists – clearly from deprived backgrounds in this rather depressing area of Glasgow – are happy to talk. Their grievance is with the politicians of Westminster. "They've split this country in half, like Margaret Thatcher," one says. "Twenty years ago Clydebank used to be booming. Now it's not. I blame Westminster, I blame Cameron." A teenager behind him is jumping up and down manically, waving a 'Yes' sign at the camera. He looks briefly puzzled when my cameraman gestures to him to hold the sign lower, as it's out of shot. And then he grins again and does as he's told. It's a controlled kind of mayhem, not a push for anarchy. "This is a vote for you and your country," the nationalist scorned most of all by the old ladies for looking unintelligent says. He is speaking from the heart. "That's what it boils down to. It isn't just a vote for Labour, the SNP. It's a vote for Scotland."

These are the kind of voters who will back independence without reading a single newspaper throughout the campaign. But there are others, it's true, who recoil away from the gamble that going it alone represents.

"I don't think there's been a lot of explanation about the clear pros and cons," says George, a local businessman out for a walk in the autumn sunshine. "There's been too many questions that have been left unanswered. That's the worst of it, as far as I'm concerned." He says that the real ramifications of 'Yes' won't emerge until the negotiations begin, and that's when the problems could start. "To be honest," he adds, with the air of one letting the camera in on a big secret, "my main concern is principally the economy".

In Edinburgh, a city likely to vote 'No' decisively, a strange correlation emerges. Those willing to be filmed declaring their allegiance to the UK tend to be the ones with English accents. The capital contains a lot of potential expatriates, of course, and when you quiz them about their 'Scottishness' they explain that they've lived north of the border for many years. There's no question in their minds about which way to vote, but they're frustrated with the campaign.

"The 'No' campaign had a very slow start," Julie says. We're on the pavement by the Walter Scott monument that dominates Edinburgh Waverley station. "They need to kick it up a notch. They've been quietly doing their own thing – a bit too quietly. We need to speak up a bit more and get it out there. Hopefully we have in time."

Back in Glasgow, Duncan – who is "very much against" independence – agrees. "Better Together has had its problems," he says. "Perhaps it's been too negative. They haven't really made the case for the union, or set out their stall properly. I think it will be very close."

The polls may be playing down the importance of these waverers, but the undecideds I spoke to seem to be drifting in one direction in spite of the flatness of the 'No' campaign.

"I'm not sure it's the right time just now," says one bright-eyed student in Edinburgh. "Part of me would be proud of it, but part of me would be anxious because I don't know how it would work out." She is giving off all the signals of a 'No' voter, but isn't quite committed yet. Maybe standing inside the poll box on Thursday will be the moment she finally commits herself against independence.

If Scotland votes for independence, it will be a triumph of passion over apathy. The No campaign may have put on rallies and rolled out Gordon Brown, but it has not decisively persuaded the voters on the street.