An email disclosed at the UK Covid-19 inquiry showed there was concern among figures in the Scottish Government that the Spanish government would block entry to the EU were the country to become independent.

The message, shown to the inquiry today, appears to have been sent from the email address of then-deputy first minister John Swinney, but was signed off by someone named Scott – it was later clarified that the sender was a civil servant and was not communicating on behalf of Mr Swinney.

It suggested that if the Scottish Government did not allow travel between Scotland and Spain during the summer of 2020, Spain could veto a future independent Scotland's membership of the EU.

The email, sent in July 2020, stated: “I’m extremely concerned about this. Spain is now being held to a much higher level of scrutiny and performance than other countries.

READ MOREFive exchanges from Nicola Sturgeon’s UK Covid inquiry appearance

“If it is not added to the exemptions list, ministers will have to explain why not when it has an estimated point prevalence rate of 0.015 compared to 0.33 when the decision not include (sic) was originally taken – 0.015 is verging on green.

“There is visible action from the Spanish authorities to do whatever it takes to suppress outbreaks (compare and contrast with outbreaks in England).

“It won’t matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish government will conclude it is entirely political; they won’t forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

Discussing the email at the inquiry, the former first minister said: “These are decisions that were taken for public health reasons that were difficult decisions.”

She said: “I hoped that the decisions my government would take would keep Covid at the lowest possible level, so that it took the lives of fewer people, minimised the disruption to people’s livelihoods and the education of children.

“I accept that there will be genuine and serious scrutiny of the content of decisions that were taken, and some of those decisions I wish I had taken, my government, had taken differently, some – I think – were right.

“My motives in this were only ever about trying to do the right thing to minimise the overall harm that the virus was doing.

“The toll it took, in Scotland, as in other parts of the UK, was far too high, so I didn’t do that as successfully as I wish I was able to, but perhaps in some ways the measures we took had some impact.”

During her all day evidence session Ms Sturgeon strongly and repeatedly rejected accusations she had tried to politicise the pandemic to advance independence.

“I don’t think in my entire life that I ever thought less about independence than during the pandemic, particularly during the early stages,” she said.

“None of those decisions were influenced by political decisions or trying to gain an advantage for independence. I was solely motivated to keep people as safe as possible.”

However, during the hearing Mr Dawson read out a Cabinet minute from June 2020 which stated that 'consideration' be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum. He pointed out just hours later Ms Sturgeon criticised anyone seeking to make political gain from the pandemic.

He asked her whether she was being hypocritical given her public words and the Cabinet's private position.

Referring to the independence work, she said that it had not been a significant part of the Cabinet discussion. Inquiry chair Lady Hallett then intervened saying the minute which said an agreement on the matter. 

Ms Sturgeon replied that it agreed that consideration be given to restarting work on independence, but she didn't herself did not want to do that.

Mr Dawson asked if work had been undertaken on independence at this time it would be a “considerable betrayal of the Scottish people”.

Ms Sturgeon responded: “If I had at any point decided to politicise a global pandemic that was robbing people of their lives and livelihoods, and educational opportunities, and had decided in the face of that to prioritise campaigning for independence, then, yes, it absolutely would have been as you described.

“Which is precisely why I didn’t do it – I wouldn’t have done it.”