MICHELLE Ballantyne has claimed the 18 polls showing majority support for Scottish independence have “not told the whole truth”.

Ballantyne, who was unveiled as the leader of Nigel Farage's Reform Party in Scotland earlier this week, said a recent example of the Union being beneficial for Scotland was during the pandemic.

Speaking to The Herald, she said: “If we had voted to be independent in 2014 we would have been devastated by coronavirus.

“We would still be waiting or a vaccine, we would be absolutely catastrophically, economically bust."

READ MORE: New Yes poll shows support for independence is still sky-high

Ballantyne went on: “If we had another independence vote, we would vote to stay in the Union.

“In the middle of a pandemic, people are responding to questions in a certain way, influenced by what is happening at the moment which is totally different to what happens when you debate the realities.

“When people look at the reality of it, they will opt for the Union.”

The latest poll by Savanta ComRes research for the Scotsman puts backing for Yes at 57% once don’t knows are removed. That’s compared to 43% of Scots who said they would vote No if a referendum was held tomorrow.

Even when undecideds are included, 51% of respondents said they would vote Yes, compared to 38% No.

The National:

Ballantyne also said something “didn’t add up” about Marcus Rashford's campaign to give children from deprived families free school meals and questioned the footballer's own story about going hungry as a child.

The 58-year-old said that Reform UK was about making policies that “actually make a difference to people on the ground” and cited free schools meals during the pandemic as one such example where a policy did not work.

She said: “The problem is there is a lot of ‘policy sell’ but it doesn’t work in terms of changing people’s lives.

“They talk about free school meals and the stigma of that. The stigma bites in secondary school, that’s not what they are solving.

“In the past there have been attempts to provide school meals in the holidays and virtually no children turned up to take them.

“People run these sort of campaigns to influence politics, and they often work.

“You could argue that Rashford’s campaign on school meals had a huge impact but you also have to ask when he is telling the terrible story of his life and Labour are bashing the Conservatives about this being terrible … Rashford grew up under Labour, they were in Government.

“And he was an apprentice at a football club, who will have seen that he got to eat correctly. None of it really adds up or makes a lot of sense.”

When asked what Rashford's motive would be by "playing politics", Ballantyne said: “People like politics, politics is a strange world and people find it exciting, they like campaigning, they like the publicity, and they feel they are doing something useful.

“I don’t know what Rashford earns but I suspect he could have probably paid for the school meals himself.”

READ MORE: 'It's enough lunches for a child': Tory MP under fire for defending school meals parcel

Ballantyne quit the Scottish Conservatives in November, after differences with the party's support for lockdown.

Speaking after her election, she said: "The Reform Party and its toxic brand of politics is not welcome here in Scotland. Voters north of the border rejected the right wing isolationism of UKIP and The Brexit Party and I am confident that they reject this lot too.”

She said she has since taken time to “re-centre” herself and had been asked to join several other Scottish parties but that it would “not be appropriate” to name them.

Ballantyne went on to say that Farage is "vilified wrongly".

She added: “I was introduced to Nigel Farage. He was lovely. Not the least bit as he is portrayed.

“He is a very thoughtful, very considered man. He knows his stuff, he really does understand it and thinks deeply about it.

“He is very centrist; I would even say he is very conservative. We found that we agreed on most things, he is not an extremist at all. He recognises that sometimes to get heard you have to say things in the way he says them, but he is vilified wrongly.”

READ MORE: Michelle Ballantyne unveiled as leader of Nigel Farage's party in Scotland

Ballantyne said Farage's links to Donald Trump wouldn't affect the party's success, adding: “I’ve never met Donald Trump, I don’t know what he is like as an individual. Nigel likes him and gets on with him.

“I think there is a public face of people and a private face.

“When I read about myself in the papers I don’t recognise myself. People who are closest to me think it’s crazy.”

Ballantyne quit the Tories over its “positioning on policy and, indeed, its principles” and later attacked her former party for agreeing with the Scottish Government’s lockdown plans.

She later said the final straw “was watching fellow Tories line up behind Nicola Sturgeon to put half of Scotland into level 4 lockdown” with “scant regard for jobs, social isolation and risking deaths not directly linked to Covid-19”.

A strong supporter of Brexit, Ballantyne stood against Jackson Carlaw in the Tory leadership election last year. She lost out to the Eastwood MSP, who was replaced  just months later with current Moray MP Douglas Ross.

First elected to Holyrood in 2016, she soon became a controversial figure, provoking outrage by suggesting that people on benefits should not have as many children as they want.

As the Scottish Tory's welfare spokeswoman she defended the so-called "rape clause" which caps the number of children receiving benefits at two per family, except in circumstances where the mother has been raped.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament in 2018, Ballantyne said: "It is fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don't claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have. Fairness is fairness to everybody not to one part of the community."

Ballantyne, who has six children, accepted she had received child benefit for her children but not the benefits many others receive.

She refused to back down or apologise, despite her comments inciting anger from other members.

Ballantyne claims she now represents her constituents more than she did when she represented the Tories.

"In terms of representation, they probably have something more akin to what they voted for," she said. "They voted for me, and the party I’m in is just me.”

“I stood on the manifesto of the party at the time, which I still represent. The party has changed, on several key things – I have not.”