MICHAEL Gove has denied using taxpayer funds for party political polling and said he did not sign off Covid-19 contracts to gauge public opinion on the Union.

The National’s sister paper The Herald reported that at the height of the pandemic he instructed civil servants to commission polls on “attitudes to the UK Union” using an emergency contract given to Public First for research on the pandemic.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on the Prime Minister to launch a public inquiry into the affair, telling the Commons the Tories could not be trusted.

He said: “Let’s be very clear what happened here, these emergency Covid contracts were supposed to be used for things like PPE, for our brave doctors and nurses fighting Covid.

“Instead, during the height of this deadly pandemic, Mr Gove used these emergency contracts to commission political research on – and I quote – ‘attitudes to the UK Union’.

“What’s worse, he handed these lucrative contracts to long-time friends and former employees. In essence this was a UK Government contract that sanctioned corrupt campaigning.”

READ MORE: Ten questions for Michael Gove on Covid cash used for Union polling

We asked Gove at a news conference in Scotland what additional taxpayer funds had been used for political research during the pandemic, to which he replied: “We don’t use taxpayer funds for party political polling … our concentration has been on making sure that we can get an effective public health message and that was the aim behind the investment.”

He added: “The contract was actually assigned by others and not by me, and the contract was assigned in order to ensure that the UK Government was in a position to be able to make sure that vital messages – hands, face, space, protecting the NHS – were communicated effectively to the public because clear messaging is an important part of public health overall.”

Gove went on to dismiss claims that Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings had said that the PM was “not that interested in the Union”.

He had previously claimed he could not see the UK Government approving a second independence referendum before the next General Election, and was asked – if they were returned to power – whether it could be held after that poll.

However, Gove refused to be drawn: “I’m not very good at making predictions. I once wrote a book called Michael Portillo, the Future of the Right, and therefore, on that basis anyone should assume that I'm not a particularly good political clairvoyant. For the moment, I'm concentrating on Covid recovery.”