A UK Cabinet minister has denied there is panic in Number 10 over ongoing majority support for independence – despite a series of moves by Downing Street to try to counter a sustained shift in public opinion.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tried to dismiss the change in voters' attitudes which have seen 20 successive polls record a majority for independence during the pandemic.

Wallace gave his views just days after it emerged a new Union Unit had been created by Boris Johnson, whose officials had also drawn up a five-step plan to stop the collapse of the UK.

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It also follows a visit to Scotland by the Prime Minister last month – despite warnings from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon against non-essential travel – and reports of a plot to relocate Prince Edward and his wife Sophie to Edinburgh in a bid to stop independence.

And they come after a proposal put forward last year by a think tank with close links to the Tories to ask Brussels for help in stopping independence by saying the EU would block Scotland rejoining the bloc. EU politicians said they would reject any such plea.

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During his exchange on the BBC's Scotland new Sunday Show with presenter Martin Geissler, Wallace, a former Tory MSP, bizarrely made reference to a poll in 1998 ahead of the first Holyrood election giving 42% for the SNP as a way of indicating how polls can change (the SNP got 29% of the vote in the constituency seats in 1999).

Asked about the level of panic in Whitehall over independence, Wallace said: "There isn't. I am sorry to disappoint you, there isn't any panic about it. I was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 alongside Nicola Sturgeon, her and I were both shadow health at the time."

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He added: "I've seen polls between elections, I remember in 1998, I think, the Herald ran a poll showing Scottish nationalists for the first Scottish elections were polling about 42%."

Pressed about the 20 consecutive polls showing majority support for independence, he went on: "There is Scottish nationalism and debate around the Union and independence has always in my experience fluctuated when it comes down to the brass tacks, when it comes to no longer playing the man but playing the ball in referendum campaigns or sometimes in election campaigns then what we find is the arguments unpick and people get serious about the debate."

Geissler then asked, whether he was saying that people aren't thinking about the issue properly at the moment.

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Wallace responded by arguing the pandemic had showed the strength in the Union – despite Scots believing that an independent Scotland would have handled the crisis better, according to a poll last month by the Sunday Times ahead of the UK's passing the milestone of 100,000 deaths to Covid – the highest in Europe.

Wallace said: "I think there's an awful lot, there always has been, playing the man not the ball."

He added: "When I started in Scottish politics it was all [Margaret] Thatcher's fault, then it was Tony Blair's fault and it was even Gordon Brown's fault when he was from Fife. And now it's the current Prime Minister's. I've seen that all before.

"But actually when you start to play the ball, as actually for example the currency debate ... in the last referendum campaign it all slowly falls apart and the Union as we're seeing in a whole range of issues comes into its fore and strength on certain occasions.

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"In a pandemic like this, where we are better together, where we are helping share each other science and sharing each other's capacity and listening to each other and learning is where the Union proves its strength.

"We should all be grateful, whether you are in Cornwall or Aberdeenshire, that the Union has worked on this event."

Responding to his claims, the SNP Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald MP said: "As Boris Johnson's bungled trip to Scotland shows, the Tories are in a complete panic over their faltering and unpopular anti-independence campaign.

"Brexit, and a decade of Tory austerity cuts, have been an unmitigated disaster and the Tories know a majority of people in Scotland want to decide their own future.

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"The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson?

“Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s."