LONDON (Reuters) - Despite sporting and historic rivalry, England and Wales had one message for Scotland on Tuesday: don’t leave us.
As debate over Scotland’s independence referendum heats up, an opinion poll showed a rising number of English and Welsh want Scotland to stay in the 307-year group forged by the Treaty of the Union that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
A YouGov poll found 54 percent want voters north of the border to reject independence at a referendum on September 18.
This is a turnaround from three years ago when a poll for the tabloid Sun newspaper found slightly more English and Welsh wanted Scots to go their own way than stay in the UK.
The survey comes as polls north of the border show a slight shift in opinion with rising support for separatists who have lagged pro-unionists with about one third support since the independence vote became a reality 18 months ago.
“Suddenly Scottish independence has become a real consideration and people are taking this more seriously and no longer just giving a flippant answer,” political analyst Anthony Wells from YouGov told Reuters.
The latest YouGov poll of 5,161 English and Welsh adults conducted last month found only 24 percent now wanted Scotland to break away from the UK while 22 percent did not know.
The poll found opposition to Scottish independence was strongest in the north of England where 55 percent of respondents favored sticking with Scotland and was weakest in London where 50 percent opposed a breakaway.
The British government is opposed to Scottish independence, saying both sides of the border benefit from the union.
“The UK has a stronger global voice than any of us would have alone - this is common sense,” Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said in a statement.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond is leading the drive for Scotland to split from the rest of the UK, arguing that Scots will be better off in charge of their own finances.
But the YouGov poll found the economy was not a key consideration for England and Wales, with 56 percent saying Scottish independence would make no real difference or not make them worse off. Only 26 percent thought they would benefit.
The number of Scottish residents opposed to independence continues to trump those supporting a split but as the debate heats up, more Scots are starting to sway towards a Yes vote and a large number remain uncertain.
This uncertainty and the Scottish National Party’s landslide victory in Scottish elections in 2011 has prompted British officials to warn against complacency.
A TNS BMRB poll released last weekend showed support for independence at 29 percent, up from 26 percent in a similar November poll, while support for Scotland remaining part of the UK was steady at 42 percent’
Editing by Stephen Addison