Boris Johnson is due to visit Scotland on Thursday, despite Nicola Sturgeon questioning whether the trip is “essential” at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Prime Minister will use his visit to argue the Union has been integral in administering the coronavirus vaccine, providing Covid testing and giving economic support north of the border during the pandemic.
Mr Johnson is also likely to thank staff involved in responding to the pandemic, though his visit is widely seen as being part of a “charm offensive” in response to polls indicating a rise in support for independence.
Scotland’s First Minister has questioned whether his trip is necessary.
Asked at her daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday how she felt about Mr Johnson travelling to Scotland while strict travel restrictions were in place, Ms Sturgeon replied she was “not ecstatic” about it.
She said that leaders should follow the same rules as the general public.
Downing Street, however, insist it is important for the Prime Minister to be “visible and accessible” across the whole of the UK during the pandemic.
The visit comes as calls grow for a second independence vote for Scotland.
The First Minister is arguing that should her SNP party win a majority at the Holyrood election – currently still scheduled for May – it would be grounds for a new border poll.
Ms Sturgeon this week accused Mr Johnson of being “frightened of democracy” in his refusal to back another poll on the union, following 2014’s independence defeat.
Downing Street now plans to stress the benefits of being in the UK for Scotland, with Mr Johnson highlighting the support afforded Scots during the Covid-19 crisis.
They said the UK Government had delivered more than one million rapid lateral flow test kits to Scotland and is funding testing sites across the country.
Westminster cash has provided 62% of testing kits in Scotland, Number 10 added.
Speaking ahead of his visit to Scotland, the Prime Minister said: “The great benefits of co-operation across the whole of the UK have never been clearer than since the beginning of this pandemic.
“We have pulled together to defeat the virus, providing £8.6 billion to the Scottish Government to support public services whilst also protecting the jobs of more than 930,000 citizens in Scotland.
“We have a vaccine programme developed in labs in Oxford being administered across the United Kingdom by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.
“That’s how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the Prime Minister’s jaunt was evidence that he was in a “panic” about the prospect of another referendum.
The MSP said: “Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled. By branding this campaign trip as ‘essential’, this is clearly a Prime Minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.”
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