- Truss and Sunak seek Scottish support
- Election hustings in Scotland on Tuesday
- Winner faces demands for a new independence referendum
The two candidates battling to be Britain's next prime minister vied to present themselves as defenders of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, promising more scrutiny of Scotland's government to undermine a new push for independence.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which heads Scotland's semi-autonomous government, wants to hold a second independence referendum next year, which could rip apart the world's fifth-biggest economy.
The bonds holding together the four countries that make up the United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have been severely strained over the last six years by Brexit and the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Liz Truss, the foreign minister, and Rishi Sunak, a former finance minister, who are competing to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, set out their policies for Scotland before the only Conservative Party hustings in the country on Tuesday.
Both candidates want more focus on the Scottish government's record on health and education. Scotland has the highest drug deaths in Europe and two thirds of the population is either obese or overweight, while a report last year said its education system is the weakest in the United Kingdom.
Truss promised to give parliamentary privilege to members of the Scottish parliament to allow more scrutiny of the government, and said she would push to sign a trade deal with India to end longstanding 150% tariffs on Scotch whisky, the country's biggest single product export.
"I'll make sure that my government does everything to ensure elected representatives hold the devolved administration to account," she said. "As a nation we are stronger together and the UK needs Scotland as much as Scotland needs the UK."
However, about a quarter of Scots will be more likely to support independence regardless of which Conservative candidate wins, according to an opinion poll published by Survation and Diffley Partnerships.
The SNP said "Scotland loses" whoever wins the contest, and attacked the British government's failure to deal with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.
The real value of the average British workers' pay fell at the fastest rate since at least 2001, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday, as wage increases were outstripped by rising inflation.
Voters in Scotland, which has a population of around 5.5 million, rejected independence in 2014. But Scotland's government says Britain's departure from the European Union, which was opposed by most Scots, means the question must be put to a second vote.
Sunak said if he became prime minister, he would order senior Scottish government officials to attend annual British parliament committee hearings and ensure data on performance of Scottish public services was consistent with numbers published for England and Wales.
"For too long the SNP has been able to obscure its failures by picking and choosing the data it publishes - I would change that, ensuring the Scottish government's record could be held to account," he said.