BORIS Johnson yesterday made a desperate attempt to row back on his “devolution is a disaster” comment by claiming it had not been reported “entirely accurately”.

The Prime Minister sparked a backlash last week when it emerged he had made the remark to Tory MPs in the north of England, adding that giving more powers to Scotland had been Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.

Addressing the Scottish Conservatives virtual conference in a pre-recorded video, he claimed it had been reported “not entirely accurately” and he did not oppose devolution “as a concept”.

He also said it was not the time for “division or distraction” about constitutional issues due to Covid.

But the SNP said he had used “weasel words” to try to deflect from his devolution blunder and pointed out a “disastrous” Brexit was still happening in the midst of the pandemic.

Johnson told the conference his “round, unvarnished view” was that “the way the SNP have handled devolution in Scotland has been a disaster”.

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He said: “Just because I have criticised the performance of devolution does not mean I want to oppose devolution as a concept. I’m a former mayor of London, I know how effective devolved powers can be.”

Johnson, who is currently self-isolating, also said the Scottish and UK governments need to work together to “rebuild from its ravages” and give people a “better brighter future”.

With the UK and much of the world dealing with the ongoing health crisis, he said “frankly” that this was not the time for “division or distraction about our national constitution”.

He added: “To tackle the shared and common threat that is Covid-19, the focus on separation has got to stop.”

SNP depute leader Keith Brown described it as a “nothing speech”, saying it demonstrated how much thought and consideration the Prime Minister gives to Scotland.

He said: “Zero effort, zero consideration, zero thought, just 10 minutes of hollow nothingness beyond more weasel words of deflection from his blunder in revealing he thinks devolution has been a disaster.

“Instead he should have apologised for insulting the democratic choice of the people of Scotland and for the litany of toxic Tory policies, from austerity to a disastrous Brexit in the midst of a devastating pandemic.”

He added: “Once again, untrustworthy Johnson has demonstrated the Tories don’t care about the needs of the people of Scotland. The only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent, European country.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack also addressed the conference, giving his speech in a pre-recorded video which showed him in front of a giant portrait of Margaret Thatcher. He claimed the UK Government is “putting the Union at the heart of everything we do”.

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he wanted to take his party to “new heights in next year’s Scottish Parliament election”.

He told the virtual conference that his party would “stand up for those communities, villages and towns that have been left behind”.

He claimed that after 13 years in power in Edinburgh, the SNP had “produced slogans not policy” and “divided communities rather than empowered people”.

Ross said: “People across Scotland are looking at the state of our country and hoping things can be different.”

However leading polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice has warned the Scottish Tories will face a number of challenges in making gains at next year’s Holyrood elections.

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In a blog published by the What Scotland Thinks website ahead of the Scottish Conservative conference, he said issues included the unpopularity of both Johnson and Brexit north of the Border.

Curtice also said Ross had failed to make much impact on the electorate, with a recent survey finding 40% of voters saying they did not know if they were satisfied or not with his performance.

He said it was likely the Scottish Tory leader would be hoping former leader Ruth Davidson – a “well kent face” – would play a prominent role in the election before she heads to the Lords.

But he added: “This is unlikely to be an adequate substitute for having a leader with a demonstrable ability to command the respect and attention of those who do not regard themselves as members of the Tory faithful.”

Curtice also pointed out that the polls now have support for the Union as the minority view.

“Rather than asking voters to consider how well the SNP have done the ‘day job’, the party might be better off accepting the likely importance of the constitutional debate in influencing how people will vote next May – and argue the case for the Union,” he added.