It would be “wholly irresponsible” for a referendum on Scottish independence to be held this year, Douglas Ross has said.
The Scottish Conservative leader made the comments after the SNP published its 11-point “road map” towards a second vote.
It stated that a legal referendum will be held after the pandemic if a pro-independence majority is elected to the Scottish Parliament in May’s election.
But Mr Ross said people are “absolutely deluded” if they think a referendum should be held rather than focusing on the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
Asked about the prospect of an “unofficial” referendum being staged if a Section 30 request to hold one is rejected by the UK Government, Mr Ross told the PA news agency: “That’s what the SNP say they will do if they get a majority.
“We’ve got their constitution minister (Mike Russell), one of (Scottish First Minister) Nicola Sturgeon’s most senior advisers, saying he wants a referendum before Christmas.
“So we’re speaking now in the next 10 months the SNP, (with) what we’re going through, all these challenges to get on top of this virus and then the economic response which is going to take years of recovery, the SNP want a referendum, a wildcat referendum, in a matter of months’ time before the end of the year.
“I just think that’s wholly irresponsible, unacceptable and the fact that they would even threaten to have an illegal referendum shows that’s where their priority is.
“It’s not in standing up for Scottish jobs, for helping Scottish businesses, for supporting communities, it’s simply about supporting the SNP’s aims for separation above all else.
“I’m clear I don’t want another referendum, I don’t support the uncertainty and division that would cause.
“But even if we get through the health emergency in the next few months, and I hope the SNP take on board the criticisms of their sluggish vaccine rollout and actually up the ante. Even if they get through that, if everything with a fair wind behind us, the Scottish Fiscal Commission last Thursday predicted that our economy in Scotland wouldn’t be back to pre-Covid levels until 2024.
“So this isn’t an issue that’s just going to go away when we get through the health emergency, we then have the economic response to this pandemic.
“And if anyone thinks that we should be distracted by a divisive referendum in the next few months or years rather than focusing on our economic recovery, I think they’re absolutely deluded and they have simply the wrong priorities for Scotland.”
In a speech last Monday, Mr Ross challenged Ms Sturgeon to debate him on her party’s proposals for holding a second independence referendum.
Mr Ross told PA: “This would be a televised debate on BBC or STV where the leader of the party supporting to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK and the leader of the main opposition party in Scotland and the only party strong enough to challenge the SNP, the Scottish Conservatives, go head-to-head to debate what it would mean for Scotland, what it would mean during a pandemic for us to be distracted by this division again.
“Now, Nicola Sturgeon’s response is she’s focused on the pandemic. Well if she was focused on the pandemic she wouldn’t have authorised the SNP to launch an 11-point plan for another independence referendum looking at the possibility of an illegal referendum.
“She wouldn’t have authorised the SNP to set up an independence taskforce on separation and how they can promote their sole aim to divide our country again.
“So she can’t have it both ways, she’s the First Minister of Scotland and she has to concentrate on the Covid pandemic, but she’s also the leader of the SNP which over the last few weeks and months have ramped up their efforts for another independence referendum and she’s got to be held accountable to that.
“So I’ve said she either has to disown this reckless plan for another referendum, or she has to defend it.”
A spokesman for First Minister Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government is absolutely focused on tackling the pandemic, which remains everyone’s top priority, and we 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.
“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 legal, post-pandemic referendum.”