UK Prime Minister David Cameron has hit back at claims by First Minister Alex Salmond that support for independence increases whenever the Tory leader intervenes in the debate.
Mr Cameron was responding after Alex Salmond described him as a “great asset” in the campaign for independence.
Speaking last week the First Minister said “I think David Cameron is a great asset to the independence cause … The more he speaks, the more support we get for independence.”
However a spokesman for Downing Street was defiant that Mr Cameron would play a pivotal role in the anti-independence campaign and said: “The Prime Minister is a great advocate of the Union and has been very clear that he will argue the case for the United Kingdom.”
The early manoeuvring by both camps follows recent reports of disunity within the anti-independence camp with several Labour politicians expressing strong disapproval after Mr Cameron appeared to suggest he would lead a joint campaign.
Just prior to Christmas a senior UK Cabinet Minister said: “He is the Prime Minister. People would expect him to lead it”
The role the Tory PM will play in the campaign has divided senior figures within the Labour party in Scotland with some, including new Scottish leader Johann Lamont, insisting they will not share a platform with Mr Cameron.
However others, including failed leadership candidate Tom Harris, have appeared more comfortable with Mr Cameron playing a central role.
Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, is also said to be less critical of the Tory leader playing a role: “If we say the PM can’t play a role in the campaign then we fall into the SNP trap.” he said.
However revelations last month that senior Scottish Labour figures had held secret talks with Conservative and Lib Dem Ministers at the Scotland Office suggest that Labour may well try to keep communications between themselves and their coalition Unionist colleagues private.
Documents released after a freedom of information request revealed that Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore had a secret meeting with his then Labour shadow counterpart Ann McKechin on May 9th to discuss the constitution, the meeting came only three days after the SNP achieved a historic majority win in the Scottish election.
The documents also showed that Ms McKechin’s colleague, and former Scottish Secretary of State Jim Murphy, met with Mr Moore in July 2010 whilst still in his shadow SoS role, the subject under discussion was not disclosed.
Many in the Labour party believe that anti-Tory sentiment in Scotland may see some undecided voters opt for independence if Mr Cameron is seen to be leading the anti-independence campaign.
It is also claimed that some Labour party figures are suggesting, as a way of distancing themselves from the Tory leader, that there will be more than one campaign against Scottish independence.
Reports suggest that the recently elected deputy leader of Labour in Scotland, Anas Sarwar MP, will be unveiled early in the New Year as Labour’s anti-independence co-ordinator.
A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed support for independence rising with 38% of those certain to vote backing the SNP’s aim. In another poll a majority favoured independence if it meant that they would be slightly better off.
Other polls have also indicated strong support for so called devo-max. One poll for the BBC indicated two thirds of Scots would opt for Scotland having control over all powers with the exception of foreign affairs and defence.