The National:

WITH 22 consecutive polls recording majority support for independence, these are tough times for Unionists.

A combination of Brexit, Boris Johnson and the pandemic has seen backing for Yes surge.

And with the pro-independence SNP and Greens on track to make significant gains at the Holyrood election, things are looking bleak for No campaigners.

In their desperation, one Unionist group has come up with a masterplan to discredit the First Minister and the case for independence.

READ MORE: Shona Craven: Yes, Scotland matters, so put a billboard in London not Greenock

The strategy: splash out on a billboard campaign attacking Nicola Sturgeon for supposedly neglecting Scotland’s vaccine programme to focus on independence.

“Vaccination not separation. Do your job First Minister,” reads the billboard. It has been put up on Brougham Street, Greenock, with the apparent assistance of local activists under the name “Inverclyde Yes to the United Kingdom”.

The National: Photograph: Colin MearnsPhotograph: Colin Mearns

READ MORE: TV viewers appalled by Andrew Neil's claim about Scotland's vaccine record

The adjacent billboard says it costs a minimum of £400 plus VAT per month to hire the advertising space.

Scotland Matters announced on its website: “We are happy to team up with Inverclyde ‘Yes to the UK’ campaign to emphasise at this time what should be the priority for the Scottish Government.

“We can only hope that the First Minister and her SNP Government put aside their fixation with Separation and concentrate on getting Scotland through this pandemic by vaccinating the people of Scotland as quickly as possible and not needlessly worrying them with the threat of another divisive and unwanted referendum on separation.”

The National: Photograph: Colin MearnsPhotograph: Colin Mearns

We have a sneaking suspicion, however, that the billboard won’t have the First Minister quaking in her boots.

Mainly because it comes just a few days after she welcomed the news that Scotland is vaccinating people at a higher rate than any other European country.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon reacts as data shows Scotland's vaccine roll-out leading in Europe

Overall as of February 16, only two countries in the world had given the jag to a higher population share than Scotland.

The National:

As of 8.30am today, a total of 1,354,966 people have received their first dose in Scotland.

Then there’s the question of Scotland Matters, which describes itself as a non-party political campaign backed by thousands of people – including former Better Together leaders and elected politicians from Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.

There is no further information about who is behind the group, with the website merely listing a PO Box, PayPal and bank account details for donations.

The only person who is known to be linked with the group is spokesman Allan Sutherland.

READ MORE: Unionists accuse Nicola Sturgeon of using Auschwitz visit as photo op

In 2018, Sutherland, a former regional organiser with Scotland in Union, promoted attacks on the First Minister for accepting an invite from the Holocaust Educational Trust to visit Auschwitz death camp.

In a letter to the Daily Express, Unionist campaigner Martin Redfern accused Sturgeon of using her visit as a “photo opportunity”. That letter was shared on Twitter by Sutherland.

It remains to be seen whether Scotland Matters will turn the tide in the independence debate … but let’s just say we have our doubts.