Boris Johnson has faced protests as he jetted into Scotland for a visit designed to bolster support for the union with the rest of the UK.
Ahead of the prime minister’s arrival in Orkney, a small group of masked protesters waved signs that said “Hands off Scotland” and “Our Scotland, our future”.
A placard reading “Indy Ref Now”, a reference to calls for another vote on Scottish independence, was also seen on the side of a van.
Mr Johnson travelled to Scotland amid growing concern in his cabinet about popular support for independence.
In recent months two Panelbase polls have found 54% want Scotland to split from the UK.
The same polls predicted the SNP will win a majority at next year’s Holyrood elections, seen as a springboard for calls for another independence referendum.
Mr Johnson argues that the response to the global pandemic has shown the benefits of different parts of the UK working together.
But his rival, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP first minister of Scotland, has also led a high-profile fight against coronavirus in Scotland in which she often differed, sometimes only slightly, from the approach take in England.
The prime minister told the BBC: “What you have seen throughout this crisis is the union working together with money for supporting people through furlough, the Army working on the testing, moving people around.
“But now what you want to do is build back better together with a green recovery and here in Orkney they are streets ahead on.. green technology.”
The UK and Scottish Governments are both contributing £50 million to a new £100 million growth deal for the Northern and Western Isles.
Mr Johnson hailed the money as a “real opportunity”.
Before the trip, he said the coronavirus crisis had shown the “sheer might” of the UK, highlighting that almost 900,000 workers in Scotland had received UK Government assistance.
But Mr Sturgeon said his presence in Scotland highlighted one of the “key arguments” for independence.
The “ability.. to take our own decisions rather than having our future decided by politicians we didn’t vote for, taking us down a path we haven’t chosen,” she tweeted.
The two party leaders will not meet during the flying visit, Mr Johnson’s first since December’s general election.
Downing Street said the prime minister would visit businesses hit by the pandemic and meet military personnel to thank them for their efforts battling Covid-19.
David Cameron agreed to stage an independence vote in 2014 after the SNP won a majority at the 2011 Holyrood elections.
But Mr Johnson has repeatedly ruled out another vote.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard urged the prime minister to “concentrate on jobs, the economy, public health, rather than getting involved in constitutional jibes”.