By Jason Allardyce
George Osborne is open to the idea of devolving more financial powers to the Scottish Parliament to prevent independence, according to senior Conservative sources.
The Chancellor is said to believe the party must embrace further constitutional change to see of Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party and help rebuild the Tories in Scotland, where they have one MP.
David Cameron, who has said he is prepared to discuss proposals for further devolution, is expected to return to Scotland to address his party’s Scottish conference this week. he will make a positive case for the union between England and Scotland.
Tory cabinet ministers believe if Scots reject independence in the 2014 referendum, the party will make a general election manifesto commitment to hold a commission into the governance of Britain. Party strategists said greater tax powers for Holyrood are likely to flow from this.
Support appears to be growing within the party for the “devo-plus” option, which would put Holyrood in full control of income tax, corporation tax and most welfare spending.
Unlike the “devo-max” alternative, which is supported by some nationalists as a stepping stone towards independence, it would leave pensions, Vat and national insurance in Westminster hands.
Devo-plus has the personal support of a number of MSPs from Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats. It is being considered by internal Labour and Lib Dem commissions studying options for further constitutional change.
A senior party source said: “This is exactly where the Conservative party needs to be. It’s a boat we have missed for over 30 years since Margaret Thatcher turned around Ted Health’s policy on devolution.
“George knows that we’ve tried everything else and that we have to change direction. He gets it.”
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, will launch Conservative Friends of the Union, a campaign to stop independence, at her party’s conference in Troon on Friday.
She said it will be a battle to “determine the very existence of the United Kingdom” and that Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom is an “absolute priority”.
The campaign will be open to non-party members to join through a network of local groups.
Speakers at a conference rally for eh union, to be chaired by Annabel Goldie, the party’s former leader, will include Davidson, Cheryl Gillan, secretary of state for Wales, Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative party, and Lord Trimble, Conservative peer and former leader of the Ulster Unionists.
The SNP claimed the campaign will be counter-productive for the unionist parties.
Kenneth Gibson, the SNP MSP for Cunninghame North, said: “The more the anti-independence campaign in Scotland is see to be Tory-led, the stronger support for independence and a new relationship of equality between Scotland and England will become.
“The people of Scotland know far better than to be duped by a party that has continually failed this country, and been comprehensively rejected.”
He added: “Labour have fallen into the background on the debate on Scotland’s future, while the Lib Dems are increasingly irrelevant.
“When the people of Scotland are given the choice between home rule with independence or Tory rule from Westminster, I am confident they will trust themselves and vote yes for independence.”
More than 5,000 people have responded to the Scottish government’s consultation on the independence referendum, it has emerged.