Ruth Davidson has suggested the UK’s four home nations should stage a joint bid to host the World Cup to counter declining emotional attachment to the Union.
The Scottish Tory leader made the proposal after expressing concern that more Scots’ view their support for the Union as “transactional” since the Brexit vote, based on economic security rather than them feeling “a sense of shared values.”
Speaking at a think tank conference in London, Ms Davidson warned this is “a shallow basis for an enduring relationship” and support for the Union could be eroding “beneath the numbers” shown by opinion polls.
Citing the 2012 London Olympics as an example of how sport can bring the country together, she suggested that a joint UK-wide World Cup bid be tabled while the four teams compete separately.
The Scottish Tory leader concluded she “cannot be satisfied in fighting for the UK solely by pointing to the many flaws of separation” as “that doesn’t do justice to the country I love.”
Her intervention came after Nicola Sturgeon pledged to “restart” her independence campaign this week by publishing the findings of her growth commission, which aims to revamp the economic case for separation and recommend a currency.
The First Minister insisted that the 400-page report would be “frank about the challenges” a separate Scotland would face and not be “sugar coated”.
The SNP leader’s demand for a second independence referendum last year triggered a huge backlash from Scots voters in last year’s snap general election but she has pledged to announce a new timetable in the autumn.
Ms Davidson said she would advise the Prime Minister to give the same response as last year if Ms Sturgeon repeats her demand for another vote. Mrs May said that “now is not the time” and Scots should have the chance to judge Brexit after it has bedded in.
The Scottish Tory leader told the Policy Exchange event that the UK could be brought together with initiatives such as a UK Shared Prosperity Fund, replacing EU structural funds to help the poorest parts of the country, or by hosting a major sporting event.
Ms Davidson said: “I hesitate here in floating the idea a joint UK wide World Cup bid – knowing just how much trouble it would land me in with the Scottish FA.
“But it’s a thought isn’t it? And this is a think-tank, so - as long as it doesn’t mean a joint team on the pitch - what the hell?”
She later noted that Murrayfield stadium is in her central Edinburgh constituency and “that would be a prime place to host a World Cup.”
Although she predicted a majority of Scots would be “unpersuaded, unconvinced and unimpressed” by Ms Sturgeon’s latest independence paper, she argued Unionists should not be complacent as the threat is “still real and present”.
She likened the “transactional” view some pro-Union Scots have of the UK to “a pre-nup in the lawyers’ office, ready to for use when the split comes along.”
But she said: “We are not tenants in a shared block of flats, known only to each other when we pass one another on the stairs. We are a Union of peoples, not of convenience.”
Appearing alongside her at the conference, Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign in the 2014 referendum, said many Scots’ support for the Union was already transactional based on what was best financially for them and their families.
But the former Labour Chancellor, who is now Lord Darling of Roulanish, said he did not think there would be another referendum in the foreseeable future and “possibly not in my lifetime.”