The National:

“THESE revelations are disgusting."

That is a genuine quote from the serially-online Tory MSP Stephen Kerr. It first appeared in a story in the right-wing Daily Telegraph paper headlined: “Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet looked at how Covid could boost support for independence.”

That story was based on a minute of a Scottish Cabinet meeting – held on June 30, 2020 – which stated ministers had “agreed that consideration should be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum, with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU Exit”.

The National:

You might think that June 30, 2020 was a good time to start looking at getting the business of being an SNP government back on the agenda. Lockdown had eased the previous day, and Scotland had seen four days running without a death from Covid.

But if Kerr – and numerous other anonymous Twitter/X users with Union flags in their profile – is to be believed, then even considering using “arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis” for political ends is simply beyond the pale.

What a crying shame then that the UK Government just couldn’t seem to stop.

Here are five times the Tory government in London shamelessly used the Covid pandemic for political ends. Five times you are certainly not going to read about in the rest of the media.

1. June 30, 2020: Boris Johnson’s Union speech

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start giving his evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry on Wednesday (Tolga Akmen/PA)

Let’s start at the start, June 30, 2020. The same day which saw the Scottish Government discuss “restarting work on independence”. What was Boris Johnson doing? Giving a speech on “Britain after Covid”.

In that speech, the then prime minister praised at length “the most extraordinary features of the UK – in so many ways the greatest place on earth”.

He went on: “Now is the moment to strengthen that incredible partnership between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“I know that some have sometimes played up the legitimate variations in the response between the devolved administrations, but when you look at the whole effort you can see the absolutely vital role of that Union and that partnership.”

So when the SNP were talking about restarting political work on independence, Boris Johnson was already at it for the other side.

Cue the outrage …

2. January 28, 2021: Boris Johnson visits Scotland

In January 2021, Boris Johnson made headlines for travelling to Scotland mid-lockdown. He was even reported to the police. It only got worse when news broke that he had visited a Scottish vaccine lab despite knowing it was going through a Covid outbreak.

Amid all the chaos it may be hard to remember the purpose of his trip. As PA reported at the time: “Boris Johnson will use a visit to Scotland to argue that the Union has been integral in administering the coronavirus vaccine, providing Covid testing, and giving economic support north of the Border during the pandemic.”

If that’s not politicising the pandemic, what is?

3. Matt Hancock and the ‘case for the Union’

The National: Matt Hancock (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

In the same month, January 2021, then health secretary Matt Hancock made very clear the UK Government’s intentions to use the pandemic for political ends.

Asked on January 25 about a poll which had just found a Yes lead of five points over No, Hancock said the Covid pandemic had provided a “resoundingly powerful” argument for the Union.

He went on: "The case for the Union is undoubtedly strengthened by the work that we've done and shown how over this pandemic we're stronger together as one United Kingdom."

Well then, Stephen Kerr will be on his way to condemn that any moment.

As an aside, a Sky News report from the time notes: “This weekend also saw the SNP publish an 11-point plan on how they intend to bring about another independence referendum.”

So, the Scottish Government was actively going public on its work on independence at the time. Performative anger, anyone?

4. Extra £28 billion for the Union

The National: A low-quality UK Government graphic about giving billions 'for the Union' during the pandemicA low-quality UK Government graphic about giving billions 'for the Union' during the pandemic (Image: UK Government)

This one was not a comment from a Tory minister, but the apparatus of the UK Government announcing that they had delivered an “extra £28 billion for the Union since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Trumpeting their ability to give billions to devolved administrations whenever they choose, the UK Government said: “This comes as part of the unprecedented package of support for the whole of the UK throughout the pandemic, with £352bn spent right across the UK.”

Did you get that? In case not, a quote from then chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay hammered it home.

“The UK Government is fully committed to supporting the entirety of the UK,” he said.

But that’s not politicising Covid at all. No, not even the low-quality graphic they made about giving billions "for the Union".

5. Strength in Union: Tories and their essays

In October 2021, the Tories published a collection of essays which were all about the Union. It was even called "Strength in Union".

The right-wing Centre for Policy Studies think tank said at the time that "an all-star cast of Conservatives [would] highlight what the Union means to them and why they believe its continuation is of benefit to all its people.”

The book saw Theresa May claim the Covid pandemic had been “a good example of the best of the UK – respecting individual national identity while using the strength of the whole to benefit all”.

READ MORE: 'Inept': Tory Culture Secretary in 'car crash' interview about BBC bias

She even shamelessly used the health service, claiming: “The NHS is perhaps the best example of the social solidarity of our Union of people; an institution that exemplifies both the diversity and the harmony of our Union.”

Michael Gove claimed in his contribution: “I believe the case for a United Kingdom grows stronger with every day that passes. And just as we tackled Covid-19 with a UK-wide approach, so we should work together to build back better.”

Then Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis described a “story of resilience against the pandemic that has demonstrated the true value of our Union”.

The National: Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, speaks during the Conservative Party annual

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (above) went further and titled his whole contribution “Union is strength”. Yes, really.

His essay concluded: “The Union can be the launchpad for successful economic recovery, allowing us to build back better and fairer.

"Union is strength. Amen to that.”

If that isn’t shameless propagandising on the back of the pandemic, what on earth is?