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English voters targeted in fight to save UK

The Conservatives are planning to target English voters as the battle over Scottish independence enters its penultimate year.

MESSAGE: Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson wants the Scottish Government to work in partnership with Westminster. Picture: Stewart Attwood
MESSAGE: Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson wants the Scottish Government to work in partnership with Westminster. Picture: Stewart Attwood

The party wants to ensure public opinion south of the Border backs Scotland remaining part of the UK.

A number of Tory MPs in English seats are expected to try to win over voters to the case for the Union this year.

"It will be a kind of an extension of the Conservative Friends of the Union campaign – to England," one insider said.

The development comes as Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson issued a plea for the Scottish Government to work in partnership with Westminster to address weaknesses in the economy.

It also follows a step up in the SNP's campaign to win over the English to the cause of Scottish independence.

First Minister Alex Salmond gave a number of major speeches south of the Border last year.

During one talk in London, the SNP leader revealed he wanted the Bank of England to be an independent Scotland's lender of last resort in the event of another banking crisis.

The duties of the party's newly appointed spin doctor at Westminster also include reaching out to English public opinion. SNP strategists are thought to believe that winning over the English will be key to smooth negotiations with the Westminster Government in the event of a Yes vote in 2014.

The pro-Union parties also believe it is important to win the battle not just in Scotland, but across the rest of the UK. They think this will help to end the speculation about Scotland's future in the Union.

And they feel it could be an important factor in dampening talk of a "neverendum" should the SNP narrowly fail to win a majority in the independence poll planned for autumn 2014.

A number of MPs with English seats are originally from Scotland or have close connections to Scotland.

It is thought they and others will be recruited to spread the word both to their constituents and further afield.

"It will be a helpful part of the pro-Union campaign", a Conservative party source said.

The campaign reflects concern among some in the Coalition that English public opinion is divided on whether Scotland should remain part of the UK.

A significant proportion of English voters are thought to believe Scots get a better deal on public services and as a result they are losing out.

Much has been made in recent years of the choices Scotland has made in offering free services, such as personal care for the elderly, and no university tuition fees for Scottish students.

There has also been constant speculation about the future of the Barnett formula which sees more public spending per head allocated to Scotland than England.

The Conservatives pledged to scrap Barnett if they were elected in 2010 and replicate it with a needs-based formula. But when they entered coalition with the Liberal Democrats the party announced the plans would be placed on the back-burner until they had dealt with the UK's economic problems.

Last night the SNP appeared relaxed about the move by the Tories to try to convince English voters to oppose independence.

An SNP spokesman said: "Everyone is entitled to a view, but the Edinburgh Agreement means we will have a referendum which will be built and made in the Scottish Parliament and decided by the people of Scotland.

"We are confident of achieving a Yes result by setting out a positive vision for a better future for our country both economically and socially."

In her New Year message, Ms Davidson said the Scottish Government must work in partnership with Westminster to benefit the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Tory leader added: "Next year should focus on dealing with what matters most to the people of Scotland right now – cutting the cost of living, creating more jobs and helping the Scottish economy to flourish.

"We cannot underestimate the challenges facing us over the next 12 months, or the effort needed to overcome them.

"But we must also be resolved to look forward with confidence, with a belief in the abilities of the people of Scotland and in the partnership with the eople of England, Wales and Northern Ireland."

David Cameron launched the Conservative Friends of the Union campaign at the party's annual conference last March.

At the time the SNP predicted the move would only increase support for independence.

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