LIZ Truss and Rishi Sunak both squared up to Nicola Sturgeon last night and vowed to save the UK from her hellbent independence drive.
Frontrunner Ms Truss slapped down her demands for another referendum and insisted the 2014 vote was “once in a generation”.
She instead promised to “take on the SNP, who have been failing Scottish people, whether that’s on education, health or the transport system”.
The Foreign Secretary previously declared Ms Sturgeon an “attention seeker” and that it is best to simply ignore her.
But pitching himself as the Union’s best hope, Mr Sunak said: “I don’t want to ignore Nicola Sturgeon, I want to take her on and beat her.
“I think we can make a very strong case for what the UK Government does to help people in Scotland and as chancellor I started that.”
The pair got a frosty reception as they arrived for the hustings in Perth as pro-independence protesters rallied outside.
Ms Truss was handed another boost to her thundering PM campaign yesterday as eleven Tory whips backed her en masse.
A campaign source trumpeted: “Day in day out, more and more members of the Parliamentary Party are realising that Liz is the only candidate who can unite the party and beat Keir Starmer in 2024.”
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Team Sunak hit back that he has the backing of the Tory “titans” after grandees including Nigel Lawson and William Hague declared their support.
But yesterday bookies gave him just a 9 per cent chance of winning the keys to No10 compared to 91 per cent for Ms Truss.
Betfair also slashed the odds on the Foreign Secretary winning a landslide over the ex-Chancellor, giving her 6/4 odds on securing a thumping 60 per cent of Tory members.
Mr Sunak was dealt another blow last night as Tory members were warned to send in their ballots quickly to avoid them being lost in this month’s Royal Mail strike.
The ex-Chancellor had been hoping to chip away at Ms Truss’ lead by pressing the flesh with as many local activists as possible.
Meanwhile an awkward YouGov poll found neither of the candidates commanded the nation’s confidence to fix the most pressing issues.
Ms Truss was the preferred option to deal with law and order, education and levelling up, while Mr Sunak scored highest on the economy and tackling the cost of living.
However both were deep in negative territory across the board, as was Boris Johnson, who scored highest on delivering Brexit and beating Covid.