Under the headline ‘Stur Wars: A New Hope’ next to an image of Nicola Sturgeon as Princess Leia from the Star Wars film franchise, the Scottish Sun carried a comment on ‘Why it’s time to vote SNP’.
It quoted Ms Sturgeon as saying she would ‘fight harder for Scotland’s interests at Westminster, offering a new hope for our country’.
The newspaper’s backing for the SNP is a further boost for the Nationalists less than a day after a new poll suggested that the SNP were on track to win all 59 Westminster seats in Scotland, wiping out the likes of Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson.
But the paper’s English edition carried a mocked-up photo of David Cameron as a baby on its front page, with the headline ‘It’s a Tory’ - a nod to the imminent arrival of a royal baby - and said only the Tories could keep the economy on track, ‘stop the SNP running the country’ and guarantee an EU referendum.
The paper also warned that a vote for Ukip ‘brings a Labour / SNP nightmare closer by eroding Tory chances.’
However, The Sun directed some criticism at Mr Cameron and his party for being ‘too aloof’ and failing to raise wages sufficiently - but added that spending cuts had been ‘essential’ to turn the economy into ‘the envy of the Western world’.
And taking aim at Mr Miliband’s interview with comedian-turned-activist Russell Brand, it said: “Conspiracy theorists like Russell Brand, the 39-year-old teenager, believe The Sun backs the Tories because we are all part of some evil elite behind every bad thing ever.
“Here’s the real reason: because this time they are by far the best bet for the prosperity and happiness of millions of ordinary people who read The Sun. It really is that simple.”
The Sun backed the Conservatives at the 2010 General Election, after supporting Tony Blair in the three previous elections, while the Scottish edition backed the SNP at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections but did not take sides in last year’s historic referendum on Scottish independence.
Neither paper’s stance will surprise Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was praised for taking on the papers’ owner Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking.
Mr Miliband has also regularly identified Mr Murdoch as the kind of ‘vested interest’ he would stand up to if he was elected Prime Minister.
Defending the apparently contradictory approaches, a spokesman for The Sun said: “The Sun is written first and foremost for its readers, and the UK edition and Scottish edition have two very distinct audiences.
“If Scotland and England were playing each other at football, no one would expect The Scottish Sun to support the English national team.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Scottish Sun’s political editor Andrew Nicholl said: “They never show us the Irish edition…We have a great deal of self-determination to plough a different furrow.”
And when asked by presenter James Naughtie why the paper now backs the SNP when it didn’t come down for a Yes vote in the referendum, he added: “We’re not backing independence, we are not backing a second referendum, we are backing a heavy presence to speak up with a stronger Scottish voice at Westminster.”