Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has defended the Prime Minister as a row erupted over comments Boris Johnson is alleged to have made.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford insisted the Prime Minister had a “duty to resign” if the remarks attributed to him were true.
But Mr Johnson has strongly denied saying he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order another coronavirus lockdown.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she did “not find it impossible to believe” he had made the comments, saying that “perhaps tells its own story”.
The remarks were reportedly made after the Prime Minister agreed to a second lockdown for England, and suggest he was prepared to face a mounting death toll rather than impose a third set of tough restrictions – although he was eventually forced to do so.
Ms Sturgeon told journalists: “I don’t know whether he said that, because I wasn’t there, but I am afraid to say based on my interactions with him, including over the past year, I don’t find it impossible to believe. On the contrary, I think it is eminently believable.”
She said it was “not unusual” for the Prime Minister to be “reaching for the glib phrase which he might find clever or funny, but most people find crass”.
And she added: “At moments in the pandemic, he has been reluctant to do the things other people thought were necessary.”
Mr Ross said the remarks, if made, were “completely indefensible and unacceptable”.
And while he said he had not asked Mr Johnson directly if he had made the remarks, he backed the Prime Minister.
The Scottish Tory leader, who was pressed on the issue as he campaigned in the run up to the May 6 Holyrood election, said: “The Prime Minister and Number 10 have been very clear he did not make the comments that have been suggested.
“Those comments, made by anyone at any level of elected office in the country would be utterly unacceptable.
“I don’t think I would want to say any more to give those comments any more air time, because they will be deeply troubling to the tens of thousands of families that have lost loved ones.
“But the Prime Minister has been clear he did not make those comments.”
He added: “No-one should make comments like that, in the middle of a global pandemic, when so many families have been affected by this.
“I can’t say more strongly that comments like that are completely indefensible and unacceptable. But the Prime Minister has said he did not make those comments.”
Mr Blackford demanded the Prime Minister come to the Commons and answer questions on the “shocking claims” and also on the “growing Tory sleaze scandal”.
The SNP MP said: “These comments are utterly abhorrent. If they are true, Boris Johnson has a duty to resign.
“The Prime Minister must now come to Parliament to give a statement, and face questioning, on these shocking claims and the growing Tory sleaze scandal engulfing Westminster.”
He added: “The public have a right to know what is going on, and why the Tory government has been handing out multi-million-pound contracts, special access, tax breaks and peerages to Tory donors and friends.
“The difficulty for Boris Johnson is he has lied so many times it’s impossible for anyone to trust a word he says.
“A full independent public inquiry is the only way to provide transparency and accountability.”
Labour and the Lib Dems also condemned the reported remarks, with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar saying: “This reported comment is repugnant and deeply distressing.
“More than 10,000 families in Scotland and 130,000 families across the UK are grieving the loss of a loved one.”
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: “If this quote is correct, it is a truly atrocious comment from an atrocious Prime Minister.”
He added: “Boris Johnson and acolytes like Douglas Ross have delivered one of the highest death rates in the world. They should not now be trusted with leading the recovery.”
Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Boris Johnson isn’t somebody I regard as being fit for high office in the UK or in any country, but I think that if the allegations about the language that he’s accused to have been using turn out to be true, then that view – that he’s unfit for office – will be unquestionable.
“I think it will be a generally accepted position that if somebody, if they had used that language, cannot continue in the job.”
Support The Courier today.
The Courier is committed to delivering quality content to our communities and right now that’s more important than ever — which is why our key content is free. However, you can support us and access premium content by subscribing to The Courier from just £5.99 a month. Because Local Matters.Subscribe