NICOLA Sturgeon will say that independence is “essential” to rebuild Scotland after the pandemic – and not a distraction from coronavirus as opponents claim.

The First Minister will focus on Scotland’s future after the Covid-19 crisis in a speech closing the SNP’s annual conference tomorrow. She will say the question that will define the country’s destiny and the life chances of future generations who will be “in the driving seat” to shape it.

The Tories have repeatedly stuck to the mantra that “now is not the time” for discussions about constitutional issues. But Sturgeon will say the pandemic means independence is more urgent than ever before – rather than a distraction.

She is expected to tell delegates at the virtual conference: “As we set about the task of rebuilding our country, there is a question that all of us in Scotland must ask ourselves.

“It is a question that will define our country’s destiny and determine the life-chances of this and generations to come.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland 'on the cusp of making history' with independence 'in sight'​

She will add: “Who do we want to be in the driving seat of shaping Scotland’s future?

“Should it be Scottish Governments – of whatever party – elected by the people of Scotland and with the priorities and interests of Scotland at heart? Or Westminster governments that time and again we have rejected?”

Recent polls have shown there is far more approval of the Scottish Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic than for the UK Government’s handling.

One survey carried out earlier this month by Ipsos MORI found 74% of Scots thought Sturgeon’s performance was positive – compared to just 19% for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The same poll found 72% thought the Scottish Government had handled Covid well, compared to just 25% for the UK Government.

Sturgeon will also say: “I doubt there are many people in Scotland who would have wanted Westminster to be more in charge of our pandemic response.

“In the depth of crisis we have looked to and trusted our own government and parliament to steer us through.

“We should do the same now as we look to rebuild.

“Our opponents say independence is a distraction from that. They could not be more wrong.

“Independence is not a distraction from the task of post-Covid reconstruction. It is essential to getting it right.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon's opening remarks to SNP conference 2020 in full

Around 3000 people attended the first day of the 86th annual SNP conference – which is being held virtually for the first time due to Covid-19 – as it opened yesterday.

Speaking live from her home in Glasgow, Sturgeon opened the event by saying the primary focus must be on tackling the virus, which had taken thousands of lives and “upended our society”.

But she also said Scotland also must be ready for “what comes next” and with independence could have a “resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart” and the ability to protect and invest in public services like the NHS.

She pointed out since the last SNP conference, the party had won a landslide victory in the UK General Election while support for independence has become the “sustained and majority view” in opinion polls this year.

She urged members to reach out to all of Scotland and demonstrate with “cool heads and patient persuasion” that it is ready for independence.

“Scotland is now a nation on the brink of making history,” she said.

“Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.

“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future.

“Let us now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country that we and future generations deserve.

“An independent future lies ahead – let us grasp it.”