MICHAEL Gove has admitted his department have carried out secret polling on support for Scottish independence.

He acknowledged today at Cabinet Office Questions, after weeks of mounting pressure from SNP MPs to publish the data.

Mr Gove was asked directly by Tommy Sheppard MP about the surveys, which have not been made public and which have been funded by the tax payer.

The SNP MP said Mr Gove had not responded to his letters about the polling, and said: "I wonder if I could ask the minister if he would confirm whether his department undertakes opinion polling and research into public attitudes to the union.

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"And if that is the case, will it commit to putting that information in the public domain since it is paid for by the taxpayers?"

Mr Gove apologised for not responding to the MP for Edinburgh East, and replied: "Of course it is the case that Government does undertake research and that research reinforces to us the vital importance of serving every part of the United Kingdom effectively."

The Cabinet Office minister claimed the "research that we undertake, for example reveals that across the United Kingdom, people believe that it's vitally important that governments work together in order to deal with the current Covid pandemic."

He added: "I think it is important that the good cooperation that we recently enjoyed with the Scottish government continues."

However he would not be drawn when asked by Glasgow MP David Linden again on the amount of money spent on the polling.

Mr Linden accused the minister of being a "slippery fish" and said: "How much UK taxpayers' money he is spending on this private polling, and given that all the public polling shows an increase in support for Scottish independence isn't it correct that support for the union is actually pretty weak at the moment, and its only a matter of time before Scotland becomes an independent country?"

Avoiding answering his point, Mr Gove cited a line from a Robert Burns poem and talked about the benefits of Brexit for the North East of Scotland instead.

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He replied: "Well talking fish... one of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that we'll be taking back control of our territorial waters, and as a result...it will be the case that there will be hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and millions of pounds of new investment in the northeast of Scotland. As a result of leaving the European Union. And I don't think we need any opinion polling to tell us that that is a Brexit boost for the Northeast.

"These are facts and facts are chiels that winna ding, so therefore I think that's a ding dong for the union."

Speaking after the session, Mr Linden told the Herald “Today was the clearest admission yet that the British Government is spending undisclosed amounts of tax payers cash on private polling concerning Scottish independence.

“Given that sustained SNP pressure has finally led to Ministers conceding polling exists, it is now imperative that Michael Gove stops the ducking and diving and publishes the results of the private polling without delay.

“The Government must disclose how much is being spent on this work and stop obfuscating just because the voters aren’t telling Whitehall what they want to hear”.