Attitudes to the Union were one of the concerns of the Union Connectivity Review, published last year, despite its focus on improving rail, road and ship links across the UK.
The author of a report into improving cross-border transport links has denied there was pro-Union meddling from the UK Government after questions about Scottish independence being “shoehorned in”.
Peter Hendy, the author of the Union Connectivity Review, defended the inclusion of research by Ipsos Mori in the report which found that seven in ten people in Scotland who travelled across the border at least once a month viewed the Union more favourably than those who did not.
The report also found eight in 10 people who travelled to any of the UK nations once a month or more were more favourable to the Union than others.
Some 45% of people in the UK travelled to another UK nation at least once in 2019.
Among other things – such as exploring the feasibility of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland – the report recommended the creation of UKNET, a body responsible for mapping and assessing the key points of the country’s transport network.
He told the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday he had found the survey results “interesting”. He denied he was instructed to include them on the behest of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.
Deidre Brock, the SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, asked if the research had featured in conversations with senior members of the UK Government.
She said: “It has been suggested the thinking behind asking those questions [about support for the union] was trying to show this could lessen the support for an independent Scotland.
“Is that part of what the UKNET is all about?
“Was this part of any discussions you had with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor?”
Hendy denied this had featured in his discussions, adding he found the results “interesting”.
He said: “ I thought it would be useful to find out what people thought of those connections and that social research report is the result.
“The sole purpose of looking at better connectivity must be economic growth, job creation, building houses and social cohesion.
“That is the lens through which I have looked at this subject. I thought it was interesting.
“The conclusions I have drawn are about the specific instances of better connectivity which I think will benefit both the economies of the devolved administrations and of the UK as a whole.”
Speaking after the meeting, Brock added: “You have to wonder whose bright idea it was to shoehorn in questions on support for the Union among cross-border transport report.
“It seems clear someone in the UK Government doesn’t see this as an opportunity to improve connectivity across these isles but as an opportunity to skewer support for independence.”
The report has come under fire for making recommendations on improvements to the A75 and A77 – two major trunk roads for which the Scottish Government has sole responsibility under the Scotland Act.
Hendy remarked in his report devolution had been good “in general” for transportation.
But he claimed on Monday devolution had meant links across borders in some cases were “not being pursued as relentlessly as within the nation”.
The Scottish Government has previously claimed it was “intentionally and specifically excluded” from the Union Connectivity Review and that they were being required to act as a “rubber stamp” for its findings.
But Hendy denied this today saying he had met with Transport Minister Michael Matheson to discuss the review but rejected claims from Kate Forbes that he demanded the Scottish Government “rubber stamp” recommendations.
He said the Scottish Government was “unique” among the devolved administrations in allegedly telling its officers “not to engage” with the review.
Transport Scotland was approached for comment.