DAVID Cameron will today make a passionate plea to save the United Kingdom when he travels to Scotland to warn that “our shared home is under threat” from the SNP.
The Prime Minister will make what his office says is a positive case for the Union, describing what he sees as the common heritage, close ties and economic benefits that have held the UK together for 300 years and made it into one of the world’s most successful countries.
On his first visit north of the Border since Alex Salmond unveiled his independence referendum plans, Mr Cameron will underline his personal commitment to maintaining the United Kingdom, saying it is a matter for “head, heart and soul”.
In a keynote speech, Mr Cameron will say that he does not argue for the Union on behalf of the Conservative Party but is speaking as a UK Prime Minister standing up for what he believes in.
Mr Cameron will declare that he believes the United Kingdom is an “inspiring” model for the future and will vow to fight with all his powers to prevent it from breaking up.
After his speech, Mr Cameron will visit Mr Salmond for a meeting that has already caused controversy after Downing Street suggested that it would just be a courtesy visit rather than a discussion over the details of the referendum.
Writing in today’s Scotsman, Mr Cameron claims Scotland and England are growing together – pointing out that “there are now more Scots living in England and English people living in Scotland than ever before”.
In a marked change of tone from previous pro-UK campaigns, the Prime Minister will be at pains to stress what he believes are the benefits of the Union rather than dwelling on the supposed negative aspects of independence.
The speech will seen as an attempt to seize the initiative from the SNP, which based its victory in last year’s election on positive campaigning and has branded the leaders of pro-Union parties as “anti-Scottish”.
In his article, which previews today’s speech, Mr Cameron writes: “The fight is now under way for something really precious: the future of our United Kingdom. I am 100 per cent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together.
“To me this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation – it matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.”
Mr Cameron acknowledges that Scotland could go on its own if the people decided to do so, but he argues that he believes there are enormous advantages in staying together.
“Of course, there are arguments that can be made about the volatility of dependence on oil, or the problems of debt and a big banking system,” he writes. “But that’s not the point. The best case for the United Kingdom is entirely positive.
“We are better off together. Why? Well, first of all, let’s be practical. Inside the United Kingdom, Scotland – just as much as England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – is safer, richer and fairer.”
Mr Cameron argues that the UK has the world’s fourth- largest defence budget, has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and the seventh-richest economy.
The Prime Minister’s meeting with Mr Salmond to discuss the referendum became a source of tension even before the two men had met. A Downing Street suggestion that Mr Cameron was only meeting Scotland’s First Minister as a “matter of courtesy” raised hackles in Bute House.
Mr Salmond wants to discuss the mechanics of the referendum directly with the Prime Minister, while Downing Street is adamant that discussions on the poll should be held with the Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore.
Earlier this week, Mr Salmond reacted angrily to the inference that Mr Cameron’s visit was a courtesy call, saying: “Courtesy visits are usually what prime ministers do to foreign heads of state – I don’t know if that’s what Downing Street meant to imply.”
The contents of Mr Cameron’s speech will add to the impression that the Prime Minister is more inclined to deal with the big picture arguments for Scotland remaining in the UK than becoming embroiled in the details of the referendum.
Therefore, today’s meeting is unlikely to offer much progress on the sticking points between Edinburgh and London on the poll.
At issue are three fundamentals: the date, the question or questions Scots will be asked and whether the referendum franchise should be extended to include 16 and 17-year-olds.
Of these, the referendum question or questions and the franchise extension remain the most contentious. Mr Salmond is sympathetic to including a question on DevoMax as well as independence but Westminster is insisting on a straight Yes/No vote on independence.
The coalition also does not believe that Mr Salmond’s plan to extend the franchise for the referendum is viable on a one-off basis.
Last night a spokesman for the First Minister said: “If this is the sum total of the Prime Minister’s case against independence, it doesn’t amount to anything for people in Scotland.
“The contrast is clear between the First Minister setting out six practical ways that Scotland can use the financial powers of independence to boost growth and jobs, and Mr Cameron’s threadbare case for an outdated Union.
“The Prime Minister’s remarks ignore the negative impact of his government’s policies on our society, and the damage being done to people’s life chances.
“He talks about the size of the UK economy, when the reality is that an independent Scotland would be the sixth-richest country in the developed world in terms of GDP per head – compared to the UK’s 16th place.
“His remarks are of no consolation to young people with no job prospects because of the UK’s stagnating economy.
“People want positive ideas from politicians to grow the Scottish economy, as the First Minister set out in his LSE speech.
“And the fact that the UK has Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction dumped in Scotland – and wants to waste another £100 billion on a new generation ‘son of Trident’ system – is of absolutely no consolation to someone with a disability being deprived of their disability living allowance.
“The Prime Minister may try to be positive, but he cannot possibly square this with the unremitting negativity from his party about Scotland on a daily basis.”