FORMER Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman has revealed that she argued with Matt Hancock over “whose citizens were whose” at the first Covid-19 Cobra meeting.

The now retired SNP MSP was quizzed on relations between health ministers across the UK during the pandemic and whether “cooperation came under strain” as the crisis developed.

Although she said that the relationships between herself and her counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland didn’t “break down at any point”, Freeman admitted there was tension in the beginning.

READ MORE: Smoking outside of hospitals will be banned in Scotland from next week

Speaking in a lengthy interview with the Institute for Government (IfG) where Freeman reflected on her time as a cabinet minister, she said that her first meeting with Hancock ended up becoming a row.

She told the think tank: “Actually, in the very first meeting I had with Matt Hancock we had an argument.

“The very first meeting, which I think was the COBRA meeting on the pandemic, we had an argument, which with hindsight seems a bit daft, about whose citizens were whose. But we got over that.”

“I don’t think actually that the relationships between the four health ministers broke down at any point,” she added.

The National: Freeman was the Scottish health secretary between 2018 and 2021Freeman was the Scottish health secretary between 2018 and 2021

Freeman said that the “different decisions” taken by devolved governments as the pandemic devolved were not an “indicator of some major argument”.

She explained: “It’s an indicator of devolved governments taking the decision that they think is right for the people that they represent.

“And there is a difference. If you walk out into the streets of Scotland just now, people are wearing masks. They’re wearing masks in shops. They’re wearing masks on public transport.

“I was at a concert last night. Every time anybody got up and moved anywhere, they put their mask on. Now that is a different situation because we take a different view about what needs to be done.

READ MORE: 'Cronyism' as Boris Johnson hands 'fanboy' Harry Mount a Lords Commission role

“But there was never difference for difference sake. It was genuinely reached on the basis of the particular circumstances in any of the devolved nations and the advice that we were being given.”

Freeman added that the main problem was that “all the levers that would provide financial support” sat with the UK Treasury.

She explained: “Although we actually, as a government, spent more money on top of what the Treasury provided, there is a limit.

“Unlike the Treasury, the Scottish Government has to balance its budget. It can’t run a major deficit.

The National: Matt Hanock, centre, with aide Gina Coladangelo, left, after it emerged they had been embroiled in an affairMatt Hanock, centre, with aide Gina Coladangelo, left, after it emerged they had been embroiled in an affair

“So, if we were going to spend extra money, in supporting small businesses or whatever it might be, it was going to have to come from somewhere.

“And we spent a huge amount of money on health, of course we did. And the difficulty there was to what degree was my counterpart [Kate Forbes], as finance secretary, co-operatively engaged in discussions involving the Treasury and the chancellor.

“And that, I would have to say, was less understood and delivered than it was in health.”

READ MORE: Council bosses at Cosla agree fresh pay offer in bid to avert strikes in Scottish cities

Hancock resigned as UK health secretary in July 2021 after video footage emerged of him kissing an aide in his ministerial office in breach of coronavirus restrictions.

The West Suffolk MP eventually stood down over the breaking of social distancing rules, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to sack him.