Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has accused Nicola Sturgeon of putting her party before the pandemic by planning for a “reckless and irresponsible” second independence referendum.
Ross outlined his criticism of the First Minister in a speech on Monday responding to the SNP’s roadmap for a second vote on independence.
The roadmap states a ballot will be called if a pro-independence majority is elected in May’s Holyrood election.
There have now been 20 consecutive polls showing a higher level of support for independence than remaining in the UK.
In the speech, Ross said Sturgeon was no longer the First Minister from the start of the pandemic and was “back to being the SNP leader”.
The SNP accused the Tory leader of launching a “ridiculous and deeply hypocritical attack”.
Ross said it was the “duty of all politicians to come together and focus on the national interest” during the pandemic.
“The public expects 100% focus on the vaccine rollout and our recovery,” he said.
“So you can imagine the sheer outrage that people across the country felt when the SNP launched a new indyref2 taskforce and an 11-point plan to deliver a Catalonia-style referendum.
“It has brought politics, and that same, old divisive constitutional debate, back to the fore.”
He added: “How can the Scottish Government credibly argue that this announcement is above party politics and in the interests of all of Scotland?
“Nicola Sturgeon is back to being the SNP leader.
“She’s no longer the First Minister from the start of this pandemic.
“There is no getting away from it, the timing of this plan is reckless and irresponsible.
“She has put party before pandemic, and risked damaging trust in the government when it is needed most.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the comments were a “patently ridiculous and deeply hypocritical attack from a party more interested in desperate soundbites than working constructively to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Scottish Government is absolutely focused on tackling the pandemic, which remains everyone’s top priority, and paused work on independence last year at the start of the Covid crisis – unlike the Tories who disgracefully ploughed ahead with Brexit in the middle of the pandemic,” he said.
“But the question is who the people of Scotland want to be in charge of rebuilding our country and economy, a Scottish Government or a Westminster one led by the likes of Boris Johnson?
“And we are determined to give the people of Scotland that choice in a post-pandemic referendum.”
Brown added: “The Tories are all over the place.
“Just yesterday, Alister Jack was attacking the First Minister’s commitment to keeping the public updated and informed through daily public health briefings – now his colleague is claiming the opposite.
“They’re clearly in panic mode, but people in Scotland will see right through this bizarre outburst.
“While Douglas Ross carps from the sidelines, the First Minister will continue to be fully focused on helping steer the country through this crisis.”