Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to drop plans for a second Scottish independence referendum draft Bill before the Holyrood elections in May.
Leaders of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Conservatives have both called for the proposals setting out the timescale and potential question for another independence vote to be shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Scottish Government had wanted to hold another referendum before the parliamentary election in May but Ms Sturgeon has since said the campaign for independence is “on hold”.
In September, Ms Sturgeon announced plans for a draft Bill as part of the Programme for Government, arguing there would be “no moral or democratic justification whatsoever” for the UK Government to refuse another vote if parliament backed the plans.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has now called for Ms Sturgeon to reflect on the “perilous situation” facing the country because of the increased transmission of Covid-19.
Mr Rennie said: “We need to put the recovery first as we face this colossal new wave of the virus. If the country is to be locked down, so should the campaign for independence.
“The last time people were told to stay at home, the First Minister suspended her constitutional campaign and stopped all work in government on the matter.
“The country and the NHS are now in an even more perilous situation, so she needs to do that again.
“Civil servants are being put to work right now on the SNP’s next independence Bill. That is the wrong priority for government. That work and any other work on independence should cease without delay.”
He added: “We are facing crises on all fronts – education, mental health and the economy. It has to be all hands on deck.
“The First Minister needs to put independence to one side and focus on this deadly third wave of the pandemic.
“Recovery must come first.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP’s choice to prioritise their indyref Bill is more absurd than ever when the country is in lockdown and people across Scotland only care about fighting this pandemic.
“There is so little time left in this term and the parliament’s essential work will clearly be limited by the impact of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It would be irresponsible in the extreme to keep diverting precious time and civil servants’ attention away from the most important issues – like the vaccine delivery, education and protecting jobs – and on to another divisive referendum instead.
“We can’t waste time on the same constitutional arguments of the last 13 years when all our attention should be on moving on from this pandemic.”
Asked about the independence campaign on Channel 4 News on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said: “Last February, March when Covid-19 struck and the pandemic struck, I put campaigning and planning for an independence referendum on hold.
“Literally every day between now and then I have rightly – as is my duty to the Scottish people – been focused on trying to deal with and tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
“That will remain the case for as long as we are in the grip of this pandemic.”
She added that the recovery from the health and economic crisis is “an opportunity to tackle some of the deep-seated issues and problems of inequality and poverty” and therefore has to include questions about Scottish independence.
Ms Sturgeon continued: “That’s not a distraction from that process of recovery.
“That’s part and parcel of making sure we are deciding as a country in Scotland what we recover to – and that’s not been driven by a UK Government that’s values are very different to those of the majority of Scotland.
“But right now, my focus as First Minister, every single day, literally every hour of every single day, is making sure that I’m steering this country as safely as possible through this pandemic.”