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British cabinet to meet in Scotland, focus on North Sea oil

British Prime Minister David Cameron takes his Cabinet to Scotland for the first time on Monday to warn of the economic cost that independence could have on the North Sea oil industry.

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron takes his Cabinet to Scotland for the first time on Monday to warn of the economic cost that independence could have on the North Sea oil industry.

Cameron said on Sunday that Britain's "broad shoulders" would support investment in the important oil sector that would give a "vital boost" to Scottish communities for decades to come.

The fate of North Sea oil revenues is one of the biggest issues ahead of a referendum on September 18 that will decide whether Scotland will end its 300-year-old union with England.

It is only the third time in history that the British cabinet has sat in Scotland and marks a further shift in tone by Cameron, who has so far relied on dire warnings about the risks of independence.

Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond will meanwhile lead a rival cabinet meeting of the devolved Scottish government just a short drive from where Cameron's ministers are gathered.

"I will take the Cabinet to Scotland where we will set out how the UK government can maximise the benefit of North Sea oil and gas to the UK economy for decades into the future, giving a vital boost to local communities and families across Scotland," Cameron said in a statement released by his Downing Street office on Sunday.

"For the past 300 years, Britain has led the way in finding new sources of energy. It is the strength of the UK's broad based economy, which can make the difference and ensure we can invest in our energy for the long-term future.

"I promise we will continue to use the UK's broad shoulders to invest in this vital industry so we can attract businesses, create jobs, develop new skills in our young people and ensure we can compete in the global race."

The cabinet will meet in northeast Scotland, Downing Street said, without specifying where.

Salmond challenges Cameron to debate 

The British Cabinet has only been held in Scotland twice before: under Cameron's predecessor Gordon Brown in Glasgow in 2009 and under David Lloyd George in 1921 in Inverness.

Cameron's Conservatives only have one member of parliament in the whole of Scotland.

The prime minister's words on North Sea oil come just weeks after the chief executive of British oil giant BP, Bob Dudley, warned that if Scotland votes for independence it could create uncertainty for his business.

Opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Scots preferring to stay in Britain, although the gap with those who want independence is narrowing.

The September 18 referendum will ask voters: "Should Scotland be an independent country?". An estimated 5.3 million people live in Scotland.

Cameron's Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat junior partners in the British government and the Labour opposition are all campaigning to keep the UK intact.

The campaign to keep Scotland in the UK has largely focused on the negative impact. Ministers have warned that Scotland would not be able to keep the pound sterling, and that it would have to reapply for membership of the European Union and NATO.

The North Sea oil industry is based in the city of Aberdeen on Scotland's northeast coast.

Salmond is taking his cabinet to Portlethen, just south of Aberdeen on Monday and has challenged Cameron to accept a head-to-head debate while they are both in the area.

Salmond wants to turn the debate into a London versus Edinburgh battle -- but Cameron says it is an argument to be had between the for and against campaigns within Scotland.

Labour former finance minister Alistair Darling is heading up the "No" campaign.

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