The SNP and Scottish Conservatives have accused each other of trying to politicise the pandemic after evidence at the UK Covid inquiry showed ministers in both Edinburgh and London talking about the constitution.

Yesterday, as Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove appeared before Lady Hallett's probe, he was asked about a 2020 report entitled, ‘State of the Union.’

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The paper’s conclusion stated: “Absent Covid-19, I am firmly of the view that the risk to the Union would be the greatest challenge this Government needed to confront— and unfortunately it is in no way lessened by the parallel demands of the epidemic and our economic recovery.

“In the lead up to May next year [the 2021 Holyrood elections], and throughout this parliament, protecting and strengthening the Union must be a cornerstone of all that we do. This paper therefore asks Cabinet to agree the need to act.”

Jamie Dawson KC the counsel to the inquiry asked Mr Gove if his paper showed the Tories were aiming “to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a means to strengthen its arguments for the Union”.

Mr Gove said: “No, I think it’s the case that I’m seeking to make sure that people appreciate the way in which the existence of the United Kingdom and its institutions has enabled us to deal effectively with the pandemic.”

Earlier this month, the inquiry uncovered a previously–secret minute showing that Nicola Sturgeon's cabinet has discussed restarting work on Indyref2.

At the time, a Tory MSP called the revelation “disgusting.”

SNP MSP Clare Haughey accused the party of “political mudslinging” and “staggering hypocrisy.”

She said: “After all the bluster from the Tories, today it was revealed that the Tory government was in fact plotting against independence during the pandemic.

“This is of course the same Tory government that rammed through Brexit at the worst possible moment – one of many reasons why it has turned out to be such a disaster.”

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Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories are to hold a debate in Holyrood tomorrow on transparency in government.

That follows last week’s evidence from Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff, where texts from late 2020 about furlough showed her saying she wanted a “good old-fashioned rammy” with the UK Government so that she could “think about something other than sick people”.

It will coincide with Ms Sturgeon's appearance at the inquiry, where she will almost certainly be asked about the deletion of her messages during the pandemic.  

The former first minister promised during a televised Covid briefing in 2021 that she would hand over her WhatsApp messages to the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

However, the UK Inquiry under Lady Hallett recently confirmed Ms Sturgeon had “retained no messages whatsoever”, leading to an outcry at Holyrood.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Douglas Ross said: “The Covid bereaved families have been utterly betrayed by an SNP Government which took its trademark secrecy and cover-up to a new low during the pandemic.

“The inquiry has exposed their sickening cynicism and self-interest.

“We have learned of the orchestrated and concerted efforts of senior ministers and officials to delete WhatsApp messages en masse.

“And the messages that have been recovered explain the reason for the cover-up: they didn’t want us to know that Nicola Sturgeon shamefully exploited the pandemic for ‘purely political’ purposes to stoke division with the UK Government and push the SNP’s independence obsession.

“That’s not an allegation – it’s a fact. Minutes of a cabinet meeting in June 2020, and messages from the former First Minister’s chief of staff, explicitly say so.

"They illustrates the SNP’s true, rotten colours."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We offer our condolences and sympathies to all those who have been bereaved by Covid-19.

“The Scottish Government is committed to responding to both the UK and Scottish Covid-19 inquiries, as learning lessons from the pandemic is vital to prepare for the future.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the detail of evidence being considered by the UK Covid Inquiry while hearings are ongoing.”