THE SNP has called for an inquiry into the UK Government’s use of public funds to test opinions on the union.

As revealed by The Herald earlier this week, the Cabinet Office used emergency coronavirus contracts to commission research on the union, Brexit and the pandemic.

The SNP say the spending, totalling around £560,000, is a misuse of public funds with its Westminster leader Ian Blackford now writing to the Prime Minister directly to call for an inquiry.

Cabinet Office sources have told The Herald on Sunday the SNP have become “hysterical” about the spending, which is “entirely legitimate” part of the department’s role.

Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack was accused this week of misleading parliament by the SNP when he said there was party political polling conducted by the Cabinet Office - which the SNP said is untrue.

The Herald on Sunday understands the government’s line that it conducts no such political polling is because the work carried out was with focus groups, and in a qualitative manner, rather than standard opinion polls.

Critics say that asking for the public’s opinion still qualifies as 'polling’ and insist the government is misleading the public by suggesting it has not done any polling.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Mr Blackford said: “The revelation that, at the very height of this pandemic, one of the most senior ministers in your Cabinet secretly funnelled funds from an emergency Covid contract to carry out polling on the union, is a scandal that can’t be covered up.”

He later said: “The Tories cannot defend the indefensible. If the SNP government had used taxpayers’ money, meant for tackling Covid, to do polling on independence there would be justifiable outrage.

“The same rules apply to the Tories, who must account for this gross misuse of public funds, which should have been used to save lives.

“There must not be another Tory cover up or Westminster whitewash. Public money was unlawfully handed to close Tory associates to conduct political research. The public deserve answers and full transparency on how our money has been misspent. It reeks of Tory cronyism and corruption.

“If the Prime Minister fails to order an inquiry, SNP MPs will take further steps to ensure Tory ministers are held to account.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Any suggestion that the Government carries out party-political research or polling is entirely false.

“Strengthening the union and levelling up in every part of the UK are government priorities, and we regularly undertake research to support policy development.

“The judgment in this case makes clear that there was no suggestion of actual bias and that the decision to award the contract was not due to any personal or professional connections.”