Boris Johnson has insisted the whole UK can “bounce back” stronger together from the coronavirus crisis.
Visiting Scotland on Thursday amid rising support for independence, the prime minister said the Treasury had supported almost 900,000 Scottish jobs, one third of the Scottish workforce, during the pandemic as the UK Government announced another £1.9 billion in funding for Scotland this year.
On a flying visit to the Orkney Islands and Moray, Mr Johnson dismissed suggestions by Nicola Sturgeon that he was politicising the crisis by arguing that Scotland had benefited from being in the Union.
And he claimed there were only “superficial” political and presentational differences between the way he and the SNP leader had tackled Covid-19.
Mr Johnson was responding to suggestions that Ms Sturgeon’s cautious approach to the coronavirus lockdown and her communication skills had been superior to the UK Government’s approach.
Mr Johnson arrived in Scotland at a time when UK ministers are growing increasingly concerned about the threat of Scottish independence after a recent Panelbase poll put support for independence at a record 54%.
Mr Johnson once again rejected SNP demands for a second independence referendum and responded to Ms Sturgeon’s accusation that he had been “crowing” about the Union.
Asked if he was guilty of politicising the crisis, the prime minister replied: “Of course not. It’s very, very important to look at the way the whole of the UK can bounce back stronger together.”
He added: “It’s not a remotely political point. I just happen to think that’s the best way to do things and I think it’s a great thing for our country.”
Greeted with suggestions that Ms Sturgeon had been more adept at handling the Covid pandemic, Mr Johnson said: “I think that whatever the superficial political difference, which may have played one way or another, and the differences in presentation, which may have played one way or the other, the reality is that this country is tackling the coronavirus crisis – has done and will do – with much more that unites us than divides us.”
Mr Johnson was confronted by Yes supporting protesters when he landed in Orkney where he spoke with crab fishermen and representatives of the Orkney Fishermen’s Society.
Pro-independence demonstrators were also present when he flew to RAF Kinloss from where he visited Baxters Food Group in Fochabers. There he addressed Tory activists in the company of Moray MP Douglas Ross and Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw.
As the prime minister flew out of RAF Lossiemouth, the UK Government announced a further £1.9bn for Scotland to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said “a minimum” of £1.9bn would be added to the £4.6bn already allocated to Scotland – taking the total to £6.5bn for this year.
Mr Barclay said: ““At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we said we would do everything we could to support the whole of the UK – whether that’s saving jobs or ensuring our vital NHS has the equipment it needs. And that is exactly what we have done.
“Today we go one step further by giving the Scottish Government the certainty they need to plan their own support schemes over the next few months.
“This is yet another sign of our support for the Union and commitment to securing an economic recovery for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
At her daily coronavirus briefing earlier in the day, Ms Sturgeon had taken exception to the prime minister’s championing of the Union.
“I don’t think any of us should be championing and celebrating a pandemic that has taken thousands of lives as an example of the pre-existing political case want to make,” the first minister said.
“None of us should be crowing about this pandemic in a political sense.”