NICOLA Sturgeon has warned opposition parties they risk undermining public health messages by trying to have her coronavirus briefings taken off-air for allegedly being “politicised”.

The First Minister said the broadcasts, which reach 275,000 viewers across two BBC channels, were too important to stop at a crucial stage in the pandemic.

She said: “The ability to stand and look down this camera and give people the advice that we all need to follow to keep this pandemic under control, I think is really important.

“And it continues to be important because we are not out of this. The risk hasn’t gone away. 

“It’s clearly not my decision what broadcasters do, but I do think there’s a real public interest in all of this.

"Don’t try to undermine the public health messaging that we really need to still get across to people, and I make that as a genuine and honest plea to my political opponents.”

It followed Labour and the Conservatives complaining that Ms Sturgeon was using the unprecedented free airtime to score political points rather than focus on health matters.

In recent weeks - although invariably at the request of the media - Ms Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of tasteless “crowing” over the Union amidst the crisis, and spoken about independence and Russia.

Today’s briefing included Finance Secretary Kate Forbes complaining, unprompted, about Holyrood’s lack of borrowing powers and her disappointment with the UK Treasury.

The powers were in dispute between Edinburgh and London long before Covid, although the issue has taken on greater salience with the need to fund the response to the pandemic. 

Labour this week demanded an urgent meeting with BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon about what it called the “increasingly political” briefings, which it said were a bad use of public money and unfair to other parties in the run-up to the 2021 election.

The Scottish Tories claim the briefings are now verging on “SNP party political broadcasts”.

Support for independence has rise to 54 per cent since the briefings began, and Ms Sturgeon’s personal approval ratings have soared.

Asked at today’s briefing about the opposition’s claims, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think people watching can make their own judgments about whether I have in any way tried to use these briefings as a political platform. I’ve on occasion actually refused to engage in questions that I judged would have taken us into political territory.”

Referring to Ms Forbes’s point about borrowing powers, she said: “Sometimes one person’s political issue is another person’s very legitimate issue part and parcel of dealing with Covid, and the fiscal flexibility of the government to deal with the overall consequences of Covid I would put into the latter category.

“I accept that others with a different view of that will see that as political.

“But the idea that our ability to deal financially with the economic impact of Covid is not a part of the handling of this doesn’t bear much scrutiny.”

She went on: “I think these briefings are important. We are not out of this pandemic yet. This pandemic, to use the language of the World Health Organisation, is still accelerating globally.

“We’re in a very good position, relatively speaking, in Scotland right now, but we cannot take it for granted. 

“My biggest concern right now is that there things all of us can do to keep this under control that we’re all maybe getting a bit lax at doing.

“I’m trying to strike a balance here  - I don’t want to talk about politics here, I’ve refused to do that on more occasions that I can remember right now - but I’m also trying to strike a balance between not doing that but doing the courtesy that I owe to journalists of answering the questions you pose to me.

"I might not get that right at every occasion. I’m not perfect. 

“But I will say to the opposition - in the middle of a pandemic, at a really crucial stage of this, when the different between continuing to go in the good direction we’re going in or going backward is so finely balanced - criticise me, find other ways to criticise me. 

“That is fine. I don’t mind that.

“Don’t try to undermine the public health messaging that we really need to still get across to people, and I make that as a genuine and honest plea to my political opponents.”