UNIONIST politicians have been branded “absolutely pathetic” after attacking the BBC for broadcasting the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefings.

The press conferences, which have been temporarily scaled back to three times per week, are used to disseminate vital health information during the Covid-19 crisis.

But Scottish Tories and Labour claim that as the number of cases decrease there is little justification for the BBC to broadcast them, arguing they give Nicola Sturgeon a platform to “score political points”.

The UK Government is also said to have “fears” about the briefings after recent polls suggested the First Minister’s handling of the pandemic has increased support for independence.

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie has now written to BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon to complain about the corporation airing the press conferences, which will move back to daily next month in the run-up to schools re-opening.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon coronavirus briefings to go to three days a week

She wrote: “Given the drastic improvement in case figures, I feel that an hour a day, five days a week for government broadcasting is no longer appropriate.

“These briefings are no longer used to relay information but have become increasingly political. This would be a hugely inappropriate use of public money at any time, but with less than 10 months to go until a national election, I feel very strongly that these briefings cannot be allowed to continue in the current format.”

Baillie also said the BBC has rejected a request from Labour to reveal how much airtime has been given to the First Minister and Scotland’s other political leaders.

She added: “The BBC’s refusal to answer these extremely significant and important questions is highly disappointing.

“The BBC has a duty to ensure that it remains an impartial broadcaster and that important broadcasts such as the first minister’s coronavirus briefings do not degenerate into the party political sniping and grandstanding we have seen in recent weeks.

“I urge the BBC to seriously reconsider its refusal to answer these very simple questions. If we cannot rely on the national broadcaster to be straightforward in its dealings, then serious questions around impartiality and professionalism will be raised.”

READ MORE: Senior Tories concerned about Nicola Sturgeon's Covid briefings

A Sunday Times article about Scottish Labour’s complaint was shared by Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw, who has raised concerns about the briefings in the past.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf responded: “Imagine in any other country Political opposition trying to stop leader of the Government giving daily public health information in the midst of a global pandemic. And also taking (often challenging) questions from the press.

“How absolutely pathetic & petty minded are this lot?”

BBC Scotland said it was evidently in the public’s interest for the press conferences to be aired.

A spokesman commented: “We are broadcasting Scottish Government briefings on the pandemic and the easing of lockdown because these are matters of significant public interest.

“While cases of infection may be decreasing from their peak during the pandemic, there remains a valid editorial justification for reporting public health information and asking questions on new developments, such as the recent clusters in the borders and Lanarkshire.

“The briefings in Scotland are covered on BBC One — which has also been the case when the UK and welsh governments have held briefings. Viewing figures indicate there is a continuing audience need and appetite for information on the crisis, with an average daily combined audience of 275,000 for the briefings on both BBC One Scotland and the BBC Scotland channel.”