Government goes on war footing for Scots independence poll: Michael Gove ‘orders creation of unit to combat Nicola Sturgeon propaganda’ amid fears over soaring support for breaking up UK
- Fears have been growing about the level of support for Scottish independence
- Michael Gove has ordered beefing up of government communications unit
- Recent poll put backing for Nicola Sturgeon’s drive to split the UK at record 58%
The government is going on a war footing for a Scottish independence referendum amid mounting fears about the surge in support for Nicola Sturgeon‘s separatist drive.
Michael Gove is believed to have ordered the creation of a unit to combat propaganda from the First Minister, with alarm that many of her claim are going ‘uncontested’.
On Friday she used her daily briefing to rage that the UK was withholding funding she needs to tackle the coronavirus crisis – even though Scotland has already received at least £6.5billion extra.
The move comes after backing for splitting up the UK reached a record high north of the border, with one recent poll putting it at 58 per cent.
Ms Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and Brexit tensions have been credited with the shift.
But the inability of unionists to mobilise and get across their messages about the benefits of keeping the centuries-old alliance has also been identified as a problem.
Fears have been mounting among unionists about the surge in support for Nicola Sturgeon’s (pictured) separatist drive
A bombshell poll earlier this month suggested that support for Scottish independence has hit 58 per cent
A Whitehall source told the Sunday Times that Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had decided Westminster must get more involved.
‘There’s a plan to get more media capacity focusing on Scotland – at least a couple of dedicated people on the media side. It’s more of an explaining role than an attack unit,’ the source said.
‘The Scottish media takes its lead from the SNP government and a lot of what they get fed is uncontested. We need to get better at explaining what we are doing.
‘It also means that ministers shouldn’t be shy of explaining themselves to the Scottish parliament or the Welsh assembly if they are asked. We need to listen and engage more.’
Government sources told MailOnline a ‘union’ unit had been working in No10 for some time now, but it was being beefed up.
It emerged last week that an assessment put together by key Tory advisers had warned Boris Johnson he cannot simply keep saying ‘no’ to the SNP leader’s demands for another referendum to be held as early as next year.
The document from Hanbury strategy bemoans the ‘vacuum of leadership’ within the unionist movement – and suggests that the PM will need to offer Ms Sturgeon more powers to stave off a catastrophic break-up of the UK.
The memo, seen by Bloomberg, came after an Ipsos MORI poll earlier this month week found 58 per cent of Scots backed the move once don’t knows were excluded.
Downing Street insists that the independence question had been ‘settled’ by the unionist win in 2014.
Hanbury is run by former government special advisers Ameet Gill and Paul Stephenson. Mr Stephenson worked on the Vote Leave campaign, and was part of the triumphant Conservative election machine last December.
The firm has been awarded a number of government contracts, although the memo is not thought to have been commissioned by ministers.
Ms Sturgeon lashed out at devolution rules that prevent her Government from borrowing money as she complained that she was forced to go cap-in-hand to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
She made the bitter remarks as she warned that some parts of Scotland – or the whole nation – could be plunged back into a severe lockdown with all but essential shops and schools closed under a new five-tier system.
But critics hit back at her suggestion that the coffers could be empty without more money from the Chancellor.
Scotland has already received £6.5billion from the UK Government in direct response to the coronavirus crisis, more than half of all the Covid-cash handed out to devolved administrations.
The Treasury is understood to have deliberately allocated the money upfront to avoid a cash squeeze.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: ‘Scottish companies are fed up hearing about manufactured grievances. They don’t want another pre-fab SNP fight with Rishi Sunak and the UK Government. They need funding, now.
‘In the past few weeks, Rishi Sunak has made a further £700 million of support available. The funding is there to protect Scottish jobs and support businesses.
‘So my message to the SNP is – stop squabbling and get on with it.’
Michael Gove is believed to have ordered the creation of a unit to combat propaganda from the First Minister, with alarm that many of her claim are going ‘uncontested’