Few would envy the enormity of the task faced by Government over the last year. But sentiment is a fragile thing. And sympathy and understanding don't always equate to trust.

The findings of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveal two inescapable truths. Trust in our Government has haemorrhaged, and that loss of trust has helped to fracture our identity as one United Kingdom.

Far from bringing us together, the pandemic, and the perception of the Government's response to it, appears to be driving us further apart.

Between the height of the first lockdown in April 2020 and the height of the third lockdown last month 'trust in the UK Government to do the right thing' tanked sixteen points nationally, from 60% to 44%. It actually hit 40% in January but has enjoyed a small uplift in the wake of the vaccine rollout.

Last year's highpoint – Stay at Home, Save lives, Protect the NHS – saw surging levels of trust in Government, only for most of those gains to be lost over the autumn and winter, as message clarity gave way to confusion and inconsistency.

Nearly six in ten people think the UK Government has performed poorly in response to the pandemic, only a quarter rate it positively. Nowhere is that damage more apparent than in the trust gulf in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Majorities there said that the handling of Covid-19 has had a negative impact on how they view the UK.

And the pandemic has made people realise how divided the countries that make up the UK are, with nearly six in ten nationally believing Covid-19 has made breakup more likely. That number jumps to seven in ten in Scotland. 

Leadership matters too. Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford both outperform Boris Johnson on trust. A lack of co-operation, a sense of unfairness, and a belief that the UK Government is out of touch with the needs of the devolved nations are also cited as concerns by a majority.

With elections to Holyrood and the Senedd just weeks away, growing calls for Scottish independence, and the resignation of the Prime Minister's Union advisor just two weeks into the job, that trust gap really matters.

As all four nations emerge from lockdown it's clear one Government – the one in Westminster – faces a defining challenge. If it's to build back trust and confidence, then it will need to prove that levelling up isn't just an English construct. That making the case for this United Kingdom is about persuading people of why they'd want to remain rather than telling them why they should.

A version of this article first appeared on The Times