By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron offered on Sunday to hold talks with Scottish leader Alex Salmond to thrash out their differences over arrangements for a referendum on Scottish independence that could lead to a breakup of the United Kingdom.
His offer followed a day of manoeuvring between the government and Salmond's devolved Scottish administration as both sides competed for the high ground in an increasingly acrimonious debate over the future of the 300-year-old union between Scotland and England.
Salmond said this week he wanted to hold a referendum in late 2014 on breaking away from the rest of Britain, while Cameron has said it should be held sooner rather than later to dispel uncertainty he says is damaging the Scottish economy.
Cameron and all the main British parties want to keep the United Kingdom intact while Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP) campaigns for Scottish independence.
"The prime minister has made it clear he is happy to meet Alex Salmond and arrangements for that will be made in the coming days," a spokeswoman for Cameron said, saying no date had been set for the meeting.
Two opinion polls published on Sunday showed support for Scottish independence is stronger among English voters than it is among Scots.
The polls may reflect a view in some parts of Britain that Scotland gains financially from the current UK set-up, which gives its devolved parliament power over issues like health and education, funded by a grant from British government coffers.
The SNP says that view does not take account of North Sea oil revenues, which flow to the Treasury in London. An independent Scotland could lay claim to a large part of those revenues.
Both polls found Scottish opponents of independence leading supporters, although their lead in one poll was slim.
The SNP won a majority in Scottish elections last year, putting Salmond in a strong position to push for a referendum.
The British government intervened last week, saying the Scottish government could not legally hold a referendum but offered to allow one under certain conditions.
London supports a referendum with a straight yes or no question on independence while Salmond is open to having a second question on the ballot, offering Scottish voters a greater degree of devolution from London.
Salmond objects to interference in Scottish affairs by a British government led by Conservatives, who are unpopular north of the border.
Michael Moore, the British minister responsible for Scotland, earlier proposed a meeting with Salmond this Thursday to thrash out details of how the referendum should be held.
The SNP reacted coolly, saying Salmond wanted talks with Cameron. While agreeing to talks, Cameron believed Salmond should also meet Moore on Thursday, Cameron's spokeswoman said.
A poll by ICM Research published in the Sunday Telegraph found 43 percent of voters in England approved of Scotland becoming independent while 32 percent disapproved.
That contrasted with the poll's finding in Scotland, where 40 percent approved and 43 percent disapproved, it said.
ICM polled 1,734 adults in England and 501 adults in Scotland last week.
A second poll, by Survation for the Mail on Sunday, found 26 percent of Scottish voters believed Scotland should quit the United Kingdom with 46 percent opposed and 28 percent undecided.
Among English and Welsh voters, 29 percent backed Scottish independence with 40 percent opposed and 31 percent undecided.
Survation interviewed 1,001 people in Scotland and 1,019 in England and Wales last week.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Ben Harding)