Independence is an “essential priority” for Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
His comments came as Sir Keir Starmer said there should not be another “divisive” vote, although he conceded that the current system is not working.
The UK Labour leader has previously said there should be a “constitutional convention” to revamp devolution, rather than an independence referendum.
Polling on independence has seen a shift in attitudes in the last six months, with support for separation becoming the majority in June and more than a dozen subsequent surveys showing a continued lead for the Yes side.
Speaking on BBC Politics Scotland, Swinney said: “An independence referendum is an essential priority for the people of Scotland, because it gives us the opportunity to choose how we rebuild as a country from Covid.
“It would give us an opportunity to decide on our constitutional future and to determine the nature of our economy and the way we deal with and support our citizens. It’s a critical response to Covid.”
Swinney’s comments come after Scotland recorded a further three coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours – although the number may be artificially lower than in recent days as registry offices are now generally closed at weekends.
The death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 4,968.
A further 1,877 positive cases were also reported by the Scottish Government – meaning a total of 149,766 people have tested positive in Scotland since the start of the pandemic.
Figures show the daily test positivity rate is 10%, up from 8.7% on Saturday, when 1,865 positive cases were recorded.
There are 1,598 people in hospital confirmed to have Covid-19, up two from 1,596 in 24 hours.
Of these patients, 123 are in intensive care – up by 14 from the previous day.
A statement from the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, on Sunday also described another Scottish independence vote as “essential”.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly said a pro-independence majority in Holyrood after May’s elections should mean the UK Government allowing another independence referendum.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said it should be up to 40 years before another vote is held, holding on to the “once-in-a-generation” assertion made by various people in the Yes campaign during the original 2014 vote.
Sir Keir said he does not agree with the Prime Minister’s timeframe, but refused to say when he would accept another vote on separation.