The death toll was mounting and the Scottish Government was looking for ideas.

Back in the spring, officials were so keen to hear public suggestions on how to counter Covid-19 that they set up a web page to collect them. This was about policy, not politics. At least in theory.

But even here – amid more than 4,000 mostly practical proposals for wider pavements, or outdoor teaching or testing and tracing – there came the inevitable screeching of Scotland’s constitutional tribalism.

Take one big idea touted for tackling coronavirus: to shut down Holyrood and the devolved administration. The Scottish response will be substandard, the poster implied. Use the money saved on PPE.

The suggestion drives home that even as the Scottish Parliament prepares to come of age, there are still those who do not think it should exist.

Holyrood was described as the “settled will” of the Scottish people by its political architect, the late “first first minister”, Donald Dewar.

Indeed, opposition to home rule in Scotland has long been so low – and the focus of politics on independence – that most pollsters and analysts do not even bother trying to measure it.

Yet in Scotland, England and Wales, coronavirus has flushed out anti-devolutionists like never before.

Who are these devosceptics? What do they believe? And what is it about the current public health crisis that has got them quite so riled?

Pete Wishart, writing in The Herald last week, provided some clues about how we might answer those questions.

The veteran SNP MP, who chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, was announcing a probe on how devolved nations, including Northern Ireland, and the UK worked together during the crisis.

Wishart – who, of course, favours independence over the current status quo – said the virus had “helped devolution come of age”.

“It’s taken this pandemic to highlight the reality of a devolved UK and to finally acknowledge that distinct political administrations even exist,” he wrote. “The concept of ‘four nations’ suggests an equality and operational independence that has barely been acknowledged in the history of devolution.”

Wishart’s crux: the pandemic has forced people – whether they like it or not – to come to terms with the fact the UK is a multinational state.

Some people do not like that. Why? Because for them Britain is not four nations; it is one.

In Scotland, mainstream unionists have always had a complex belief system in which the union state was both a nation in its own right and a group of nations.

This is the political culture which underpins the devolution settlement. Is it under threat?

A unionist can usually have more than one country. His or her unionist identity can toggle along a broad spectrum from very Scottish to very British.

This pandemic, if you are at the Union Jack end of that spectrum, is proving challenging.

Henry Hill, assistant editor of the website ConservativeHome, has been concerned about the encroachment on Britishness by devolution since long before the first coughs of corona early this spring. He does not deny Scottish, Welsh, English or Northern Irish identity. But he worries not enough political space is being left for what he calls “we British” to act as Britons.

Speaking to The Herald on Sunday, Hill said: “The smaller the sphere of reserve found, were the most keen on abolition. As many as 41% of them want rid of Holyrood.

Roger Awan-Scully has been tracking the trends on anti-devolutionism. He is professor of politics and international relations at Cardiff University.

Much of his focus is on Wales, a nation where, he says, it has long been possible to “screen out” devolution if you were not interested. Not any more.

Suddenly, as in Scotland, the Welsh cannot ignore who is in charge of handling the crisis.

Neither can day-tripping English motorists. After the lockdown was loosened in England before Wales, some of them found themselves remonstrating with Welsh police that “Boris” had said it was OK for them to go to the beach. It was not: rules in Wales were different. Border raiders ended up getting tickets.

A lot of Welsh people cheered at the sight. But far from all. Perhaps one in five Welsh voters would shut the Senedd, according to many polls.

How does Awan-Scully explain anti-devolutionist sentiment in Wales? Well, it is mostly about identity, he said: those who wish to close the Parliament in Wales – the Senedd – often feel more English or British than Welsh.

“One of the big societal differences between Wales and Scotland is the significant higher proportion of people who were born or raised in England. I am one of them,” he said.

“If you look at those people who support abolition, they are not only older, which I think is similar in Scotland, but also people who were born or raised in England and consider their national identity British or even English. Just as those who support independence are disproportionately people who speak Welsh and are strongly imbued in Welsh culture and have a national identity which is Welsh.”

Wales has a weak indigenous media and high immigration from England. You can live an English life in Wales, he suggested, if that is what you want.

“Quite a lot of people who come to Wales don’t engage with devolved level politics at all or see it as an irritant,” Awan-Scully said.

Scottish politicians and analysts can be coy about this kind of narrative. The areas where anti-Holyrood sentiment are highest – the Highlands and Edinburgh – have high levels of English immigration. Politicians in Wales avoid this issue too. “It is quite a taboo topic,” Awan-Scully said. “[Independence-supporting] Plaid are reluctant to get in to much for fear of being tarnished as anti-English. It is not something that is at the forefront of national debate.”

Some Welsh voters are almost opting out of devolution, he suggested. “There is something about devolution to some extent that allows a bit of picking and choosing.

“Those who have a strong Welsh identity and are interested in Wales and its culture tend to be the people who pay more attention to devolved politics. And those people who don’t have much taste for this are able to screen this out.”

Coronavirus slices right through that. Public health has always been dealt with at a substate level in the UK (as it is in many other parts of the world) and the Scottish health department, or its successor organisations, is a century old.

But this is the first crisis of this level in a 100 years. So such niceties have been lost, not least on London commentariat who have never before given much thought to the implications of devolution.

The pandemic has raised the profile of devolution and the leaders of devolved nations like never before. Nicola Sturgeon, already a household name across the UK, has become a ubiquitous presence on small screens. Mark Drakeford, her Welsh counterpart, has been thrust from relative obscurity into the limelight.

Awan-Scully said: “We have seen from some people outrage or irritation that Wales is doing something different and ‘what a nonsense this is’.

“However, particularly as the UK Government’s handing has come under criticism we see people saying ‘thank goodness Wales is following its own line’.

Drakeford, who is Labour, used to cause problems for pollsters because those surveyed barely had an opinion of him. Now, a politician famed for attention to detail and quiet policymaking rather than charisma, he is seen as having had a good pandemic. Importantly, people have a view of him.

Anti-devolutionalists came in many flavours. Many chose to speak to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, realising their position ran against the nation’s political grain.

They are left-wingers or liberals who want to see more municipal powers, more regional devolution and think Holyrood is a distraction. There are small government conservatives who fret about the cost of more politicians. And there are those – as back in 1997 – who felt Holyrood was for the central belt, not the Highlands, islands, northeast and south.

There is no mainstream party seeking to undo devolution in Wales or Scotland – and Northern Ireland’s assembly remains hardwired in to the peace agreement.

Will there be a new and more robustly “British” nationalist counter-attack on institutions weakening the UK “nation-state”? Or will there be a pushback against “more powers” to Edinburgh and Cardiff as a sop to full-scale independence? In Scotland, such views are outside unionist mainstream. So far.

Meanwhile, the person proposing Holyrood’s abolition on the Government’s ideas site channelled what appeared an instinctive rather than evidence-based view: a Scottish response, they reckoned, would be inferior to a UK-wide one.

The anonymous poster argued: “It would make greater sense if there was one nationwide decision-making body comprised of the best people in the UK, chosen from a far deeper talent pool, rather than the Scottish Government’s separate approach, which is being cobbled together by people who appear not to be epidemiologists, and is contributing to confusion.”

These sentiments run counter to broader Scottish popular opinion, which thinks Edinburgh is doing better than London, despite a broadly similar policy framework. But they raise another question. Does our national identity now determine how well we think our national governments perform?