England and Wales want Scots to stay in the union, poll reveals

Experts say Alex Salmond has a mountain to climb if his party is to win a 'Yes' vote in the referendum

Only three in 10 people in England and Wales want to see Scotland break away from the United Kingdom, according to an opinion poll for The Independent.

The findings by ComRes call into question claims that the rest of Britain would be happy to see the Scots vote for independence in their 2014 referendum. Some commentators have argued that the English would be relieved if they no longer had to subsidise public services north of the border.

According to ComRes, people in England and Wales want Scotland to remain part of the UK by a margin of two to one. Asked whether Scotland should separate from the rest of the UK to become a fully independent country, 28 per cent agree, 57 per cent disagree and 15 per cent are "don't knows". Those aged 65 and over are much less supportive, with 19 per cent in favour, the lowest of any age group.

The poll comes as Ed Miliband is to attack the "narrow nationalism" which he warns could hasten the demise of the UK. In a speech today, the Labour leader will argue for a "progressive patriotism" that recognises and promotes the distinctive nature of the UK's four nations and will single out Jeremy Clarkson for promoting a break-up.

He will admit that past Labour governments have been wary of promoting a sense of Englishness for fear of undermining the UK.

Speaking in London, Mr Miliband will condemn the SNP for offering a "false choice" between being Scottish and British. He will say: "Here in England, there are people like Jeremy Clarkson who shrug their shoulders at the prospect of the break-up of the Union." In a recent newspaper column, Mr Clarkson said Scottish independence "would be as sad as waving goodbye to a much loved, if slightly violent, family pet".

Although the 2014 referendum is officially only an advisory one, Coalition ministers admit they would have to accept the verdict of the Scottish people.

North of the border, voters oppose independence by 60 per cent to 40, according to a "poll of polls" by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who has analysed surveys taken since January. Experts believe that Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, has a mountain to climb if his Scottish National Party is to win the referendum. Peter Kellner, the president of pollsters YouGov, said the 2014 campaign could see a swing back to the status quo, so the SNP will be looking to build a solid lead before then.

"Maybe Salmond can come up with a new argument. He is certainly Scotland's, and possibly Britain's, most persuasive politician," he said. "If anyone is able to climb the mountain and deliver a Yes majority, it is he. However, I reckon the odds are against him."

Mr Kellner said opponents of independence will try to frighten Scottish voters. They will say that investors will withdraw from Scotland; that the country will suffer from the loss of the subsidy it currently receives from England; that if Scotland keeps the pound, as Mr Salmond wants, London will force austerity measures on Edinburgh. They may also claim that the cost of administering an independent country, including its own armed forces, embassies and civil service, will gobble up too much money; that an independent Scotland will have to spend at least a decade cast adrift from the EU and that Scottish viewers will lose access to BBC services or have to pay extra for them.

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