THE Queen is to lead a Royal "charm offensive" to help save the Union – with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expected to play a key role, it is being reported.

The strategy, which is said to be discreetly backed by Downing Street, received its effective launch on Saturday when Prince William described the "special place" Scotland has in his heart.

He made the comments in his address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh as he and his wife embark on a week-long campaign in Scotland to win over hearts and minds. 

Today, the Duke of Cambridge attended church at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. 
He was pictured leaving the building on the Royal Mile accompanied by the Reverend Neil Gardner after the service.

The National:

The Duke of Cambridge leaves Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, where he is pictured alongside Reverend Neil Gardner after Sunday service today. Photo Andrew Milligan/PA.

The Prince hit the headlines last week after he attacked the BBC over how its former journalist Martin Bashir secured a controversial Panorama interview in 1995 with the Duke's late mother Princess Diana.

Speaking at the General Assembly yesterday he said Scotland features in some of his "happiest memories" – but also a few of his "saddest".

It was at the Queen's Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire that he learned of Diana's death, in August 1997.

But it was in St Andrews where he met and fell in love with his future wife, Kate Middleton.

The Queen also made her own apparent comment about a United Kingdom in a letter to the Church which was read out by the Reverend George Whyte, chaplain-in-ordinary and principal clerk. 

It spoke of "new bonds" that have been "forged in times of emergency" that "will serve us all well in the future as the United Kingdom seeks to rebuild and reshape community life".

After the SNP's landslide victory in the Holyrood election this month, Nicola Sturgeon told Boris Johnson that a second independence referendum is a matter of "when not if".

The National:

Prince William and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pictured at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on Saturday.

The SNP fell short of winning an overall majority but the First Minister made clear she wants a vote before the end of 2023.

Officials at Number 10 have held discussions about how to use "cultural bonds" to help to tie Scotland more closely to London, with the Royal Family regarded as one of the most powerful weapons in their armoury.

Ahead of the 2014 referendum the Queen said Scots should "think carefully about the future".

Her comment was made while staying at Balmoral and was seen to influence the final 55%-45% result against independence.

In his General Assembly address, Prince William not only touched upon some of the most private aspects of his life, but also struck a conciliatory tone.

"It is my duty today to speak, but equally I am here to listen," he said. 

"In Scotland this week I will have my eyes and ears permanently open. Along with listening, there is something I do want to tell you - Scotland is incredibly important to me and will always have a special place in my heart."

William, 38, who is known as the Earl of Strathearn in Scotland, was speaking in his role as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly.

He spoke of his happy time at St Andrews University as a student and training as a pilot in Inverness, adding: "In short, Scotland is the source of some of my happiest memories. But also, my saddest."

In what was interpreted as a nod to longevity, he referred to his children, including Prince George, who is third in line to the throne.

"George, Charlotte and Louis already know how dear Scotland is to both of us, and they are starting to build their own happy memories here, too," he said. 

"We have no doubt they will grow up sharing our love and connection to Scotland from the Highlands to the Central Belt, from the Islands to the Borders."

The Queen, who yesterday visited the crew of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, made her own apparent comment about a United Kingdom in her letter that was read out by the Reverend Whyte.

"We have been pleased to learn how the Church has developed deeper relationships within the Christian family, with neighbours of other faiths and with those who hold responsibility in government and parliament," she wrote, in reference to changes that have taken place during the coronavirus pandemic.

"These new bonds have been forged in times of emergency but they will serve us all well in the future as the United Kingdom seeks to rebuild and reshape community life."

The Queen is making plans for her traditional Holyrood Week in early summer. 
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will also focus on charitable work in Scotland, including events at Dumfries House, but the decision to send the Cambridges ahead was a clear part of the PR strategy. 

"It's about opening a dialogue," a source told the Mail on Sunday today. "Listening and talking, and all members of the Royal Family have a strong affinity with Scotland."

One former Downing Street insider said there had been discussions about how the popularity of senior Royals could be used to help bolster support for the Union.

"If you look at polling, especially on the Queen, it's a very positive thing for the Union," the source continued. "That's been discussed a few times. 

"The affection was evident when Wills and Kate did their tour last year. It's something that needs careful deployment, but it's certainly recognised that the Queen, and in particular Wills and Kate, are popular figures north of the Border as well as south."

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the claims made in the Mail in Sundy today when approached by The National.

A spokeswoman for the Queen referred to a convention that the monarch was expected to remain neutral on political matters of the day and directed The National to the following comments on Her Majesty's website.

"As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters," it said.

"By convention, The Queen does not vote or stand for election, however Her Majesty does have important ceremonial and formal roles in relation to the government of the UK."

In the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Government backed having the monarch as head of an independent Scotland.

The SNP have not yet said whether ahead of a second independence referendum, the 2014 policy would remain or whether it would back Scotland becoming a republic.

The First Minister has said a full prospectus on what policies would be pursued in an independent Scotland in terms of the big issues such as cross border trade with the UK will be set out ahead of a new vote.