The National:

WHEN Rishi Sunak announced that furlough was being extended to cover the period of renewed national lockdown in England, he tweeted a Union Jack-bedecked image that read "We Stand Together". This was plainly rank hypocrisy.

Pleas to the Chancellor from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and mayors in the north of England had fallen on deaf ears, until the very evening that the south suddenly found itself affected by the most severe restrictions.

Nevertheless, it's fascinating to ponder what Sunak actually thought he meant by his boast.

Could it be that we're expected to be grateful that the support scheme doesn't just cover the south, but has been extended to the whole UK? If so, it's a revealing insight into how "solidarity" and the much-vaunted "pooling and sharing" actually works in Our Precious Union.

The rest of the island gets what the south needs, and if the south doesn't need anything, the rest of the island gets nothing.

READ MORE: Treasury snub meant Scottish ministers learnt of furlough extension from TV

It's hard to judge whether the devolved nations or the north of England would have had it worst if the U-turn on furlough hadn't happened. As events in Greater Manchester proved, local leaders in the north of England like Andy Burnham ultimately had no power to stop lockdown measures being introduced without adequate financial provisions being made.

At least, it might be said, the Scottish Government had the option to unilaterally eschew any restrictions that would be harmful to business or employees in the absence of Westminster assistance. But what sort of discretionary power is that, if scientific advisers leave ministers in no doubt that restrictions are needed to prevent a tsunami of infections and deaths?

It seems that the "best of both worlds" we were promised in 2014 amounts to the right to make a free but impossible choice between public health and penury.

The rhetoric familiar to all of us about Scotland having two governments, not just one, really ought to imply that one administration will complement the other in its own domain of responsibilities. In other words, if the Scottish Government introduce lockdown measures that are only viable with the extension of furlough, the UK Government's role is to extend furlough and thus ensure the devolution system actually functions.

Its role is not to decide that the Scottish Government has made the wrong decision and to effectively say "do what you like, but see how long you can last without our help". If it does the latter, any rational person would conclude that the system is dysfunctional and needs to be urgently reformed, most obviously by transferring sufficient financial powers to Holyrood to make a go-it-alone Scottish furlough scheme feasible.

If London pretends that further devolution of that sort is inconsistent with the continuance of the United Kingdom, the only possible conclusion to draw is that independence is absolutely essential for the protection of the public.

READ MORE: Tories accused of only extending furlough scheme when south of England needed it

And what has the Scottish Conservative party got to say about all this?

The analysis of both Douglas Ross and his predecessor Jackson Carlaw throughout this crisis has rested on two main assumptions - that it is unacceptable for the Scottish Government to make decisions that differ substantively from the decisions made by the UK Government for England, and that any restrictions Nicola Sturgeon does impose are likely to be too burdensome for business and unnecessary to curb the spread of the virus.

But now, for the first time, the English lockdown looks set to be harsher than north of the Border. So what's it to be, Douglas? Must we move in harmony as one glorious United Kingdom into a deeper lockdown, and if so, what do you have to say to the businesses that will take a hammering?

Or if it's not necessary or desirable for us to do that, wouldn't that suggest the restrictions you've been complaining about were always vital to prevent us getting into an English-style hole in the first place?

One thing we can be assured of is that the cognitive dissonance on display as Ross attempts to talk his way out of this one will be a connoisseur's treat.