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. "Despite the fact that the unionists had a 14% lead a matter of months ago...they are now 2% down." It cites a familiar name to Scots, John Curtice. His conclusion: it's too close to call.

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. "They have waited a long time for their moment," it said on Monday of indy activists. "But with an unstinting faith, they have never been demoralised by polls showing big majorities favouring staying in the UK. They always believed it would come down to the final finish. " The latest poll, Le Figaro, like others, said was the result of a blitzkreig, a lightning war, pushing Yes in to contention.

Cue, it said, panic. "In London, it came like an electric shock. Dazed, the English woke on Sunday morning to the announcement by the news channels that the UK was living through its last days.

"Political HQs decreed a general mobilisation and sent their troops north of Hadrian's Wall to try and jolt the campaign awake. The leaders of British parties tried to lure Scots with autonomy, if only they would stay in the union."

The Queen was "horrified" at the thought of her kingdom being dismantled, the paper said, citing weekend media reports in London; Cameron was "nervous" while it repeated the words of another Tory, MP Edward Leigh, warning of a "national humiliation of catastrophic proportions".

Russian rolling news channel Vesti picked up the same theme with - and maybe I am overstating this - just the tiniest hint of schadenfreude. "Scottish independence appears a much more realistic scenario," it reported from Glasgow with crowds at a city rally. The Yes campaign - of an "unprecedented scale" - meant offers of widespread autonomy in the face of rising demand for independence were "too late".

"Investors have become nervous," the channel reported. "Independence has slowly but surely turned in to a real economic and political risk for Britain.

"Scotland is close to the moment it was waiting for: self-rule. Risks will be unavoidable but Scots are much more concerned about having the ability to decide their own fate."

The channel, however, stressed pressure was on the British Government, not Scots. "Will Scotland take on its share of the national debt - and what currency will circulate in the breakaway state, are even more painful questions," it said. "Moreover, theses are painful questions, right now, for London."

Russian viewers, of course, know a thing or two about dismantling states. And they remember that it was Russia that picked up all the USSR's debt, but kept the old empire's currency and most international assets, in what was called a "zero-option" divorce.

The New York Times, too, saw independence as a problem for the UK. British politicians, it said, had offered more autonomy after being "shaken" by YouGov. It said: "The narrowing polls have caused considerable anxiety among politicians and business leaders, driving down the value of the pound and raising questions among investors about the stability of the economy and the fate of the current British government."

America's paper of record also saw a downside for the rump British state, It said: "There are also serious questions about how Scotland would finance itself, given its dependence on royalties from the flow of North Sea oil and gas, which has been declining. A vote for independence would also mean tense negotiations with London on issues like fishing rights and the future of Britain's nuclear submarine base in Scotland.

"Questions like these are what the "no" campaign is counting on - that Scots will not want to leap into such an uncertain future, especially with the promise of maximum devolution should they stay. But many Scots see the referendum as their best and perhaps last chance to reclaim independence."

But the New York Times also recognised a gulf in political culture between north and south of the border. Scotland tends to vote more left-wing than England and favours a larger, more centralised, Scandinavian-style state, with free university education and health care," it said. "The political divide from Westminster is sharp."

Not long ago such political nuances would have escaped international coverage of our indyref. But even before the latest poll, big US publications were beginning to catch up, America's two great news magazines, Newsweek and Time, have pitched Scotland on to their front pages, at least in some editions, and was planned long before YouGov interrogated its online panel.

Newsweek features two naked men standing 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?" But this isn't about the gulf between unionists and nationalists in Scotland, The magazine, instead, explores identity issues between the English and the Scots.

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."

Catherine Mayer, writing in Time before the latest polls, 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."

There are news markets, of course, where the Scottish story has long been told in more detail - and more nuance - than America. One is Catalunya, the other Québec. La Vanguardia, a daily in the former quickly saw that the British were adopting strategies from the latter. "The whole Scottish press dances to the same tune," it said. "According to the precedent set in the 1995 Québec referendum, in which the independentists pulled six points ahead. Then the Ottawa government pulled a plan for more autonomy from its sleeve and now London is repeating the same formula."

Additional reporting by Mark Latham.