For two years independence has been a slow-burner, a news story simmering in the corner of foreign section; little more than curiosity provoking the occasional photo of Mel Gibson.

Until now. Suddenly, as Yes rallies in the polls and the pound sinks on the currency markets, the Scottish question is front page news across the world.

"Anything can happen in Scotland," splashed Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the main serious read in the Swiss financial capital of Zürich. "The pendulum is swinging dramatically towards the independence camp", the paper declared, citing this weekend's YouGov poll. The Swiss - the sheer prominence of the story being as important as its content - are summing up the international mood, that there is no real doubt about who will win this looming indyref and therefore real doubt about the future of the UK, the place much of the rest of the world thinks of as "England".

That, of course, is because the story isn't big because it's about Scotland. The story is big because it is potentially very bad news for Britain, bad news, that is, for both the UK in general and for its currency, its premier and its monarch in particular.

Take Le Figaro, the more conservative of Paris's two great dailies. "Dazed, the English woke on Sunday morning to the announcement by the news channels that the UK was living through its last days.

Newsweek features two naked men behind flags. One clutches a St George's Cross and is labelled "unionist". The other hides behind a Saltire and is labelled "separatist". The caption: "How different are we really?"

The man dubbed "separatist" was writer and lawyer Finlay Young from Perth, who joined friend Simon Akam on a tour of Britain for Newsweek. By the end, the Scot had summed up the culture clash between the two over independence. "In my criticism of the status quo and excitement at the idea of change, he heard a chippy, morally superior Scotsman," Young said of Akam. "In his acceptance of the status quo and his dismissal of any prospect of change, I heard a condescending, naysaying Englishman. By the end of our journey, we knew each other better, but thought each other worse. As it has for our nations, the independence debate pushed the latent complexities in our friendship to the surface."

Time ran with a one word headline: "Exit" with the X as a saltire.

Catherine Mayer, writing in the US magazine, distilled sudden international and British angst over Scotland. "As if awakened from slumber by a drenching with glacial loch water," she said. "UK politicians yelped in surprised indignation when opinion polls, which for much of this year have returned a comfortable lead for a No vote, suddenly tightened this week.

"The possibility of victory for the Yes campaign, so long dismissed as the longest of long shots, is now focusing minds outside Scotland on what's happening in Scotland.

"Scottish voters have a tricky decision to make. But it should always have been as apparent as the knees on a tall man in a kilt that Scotland's departure was a real possibility and that it would have a negative impact on the rest of the UK."