The Scottish Government has published its draft legislation on plans for a second independence referendum.
The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill stipulates the next Scottish Parliament should decide the timing of any referendum.
The draft bill says the question put to voters should be the same as at the 2014 referendum, asking “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.
The proposed legislation would also extend voting eligibility to match the franchise at Scottish Parliament and local government elections.
In the introduction to the draft bill, constitution, Europe and external affairs secretary Michael Russell said: “The Scottish Government believes that the people of Scotland have the right to decide how Scotland recovers from the pandemic and what sort of country they wish to build after the crisis.
“To ensure the people of Scotland have that right, the Scottish Government believes there should be an independence referendum within the next term of the Scottish Parliament once the public health crisis is over.”
The draft bill added that the question posed to voters would be translated into Gaelic in a bid to be more inclusive, and intends to allow foreign nationals with leave to remain in Scotland the opportunity to vote.
Speaking in response to publication of bill, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie said: “Holy moly, they’ve had people working on the referendum instead of dealing with the pandemic.
“Dozens of civil servants could have been planning to get cancer services running full speed but they’ve been ordered to do this instead. Or they could have been working on getting funds to business, better mental health services or support for schools.
“We are still in a pandemic. Thousands have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their job.
“Reasonable people will think that this is the wrong moment to be pushing a referendum.
“We should put recovery first and bin this bill.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the decision to publish a bill for a second independence referendum was a “reckless distraction” while Scotland deals with the pandemic.
“It is beyond the comprehension of most Scots that Nicola Sturgeon considers this to be a priority,” he said.
“Scotland continues to be gripped by the global pandemic and even once normality slowly returns, the shockwaves will be felt for years to come.
“The SNP Government is mired in sleaze with nothing left to offer except yet more division and grievance
“The motivation for this is as much to do with distracting people from the Sturgeon-Salmond scandal.
“A responsible government would be entirely focused on Scotland’s post-pandemic recovery, but Sturgeon and her ministers have become detached from reality and the priorities of ordinary families.
“That is why this election is so important for Scotland’s future. The SNP will neglect the NHS, schools and the day job of governance to irresponsibly drag the country through another painful battle which pits friends, families and neighbours against each other.
“Only a vote for the Scottish Conservative can block this madness. Labour simply can’t be trusted. They are more likely to side with the SNP than to defend the UK.”
Scottish Labour constitution spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “The focus for all of Scotland’s politicians should be on bringing the country together, and an independence referendum is not a priority at this time.
“Scottish Labour will focus on what unites us, not what divides us.
“In contrast to the SNP and Boris Johnson’s Tories, Scottish Labour will put our national recovery first.
“At this election, Scottish Labour is putting forward a National Recovery plan that will put the national interest before the nationalist interest.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Greens said they supported the referendum bill.
Co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s future must be in the hands of those who live and work in Scotland, and the Scottish Greens are asking people to vote like our future depends on it this May.
“Our manifesto will support a referendum on our shared future, and polls show we may be crucial in ensuring this bill passes.”