HAVING a vote on independence is an "essential priority" for Scotland's recovery from coronavirus, John Swinney has said.

Speaking on Politics Scotland, the deputy First Minister rejected Keir Starmer's claim that now was not the time for a new vote on the constitution. 

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He 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."

The Scottish Tory constitution spokesman Dean Lockhart said Swinney was trying to drag "the country back to the divisions of the past.”

He said: “It beggars belief that John Swinney feels another divisive independence referendum is a priority for Scotland while we are continuing to deal with a global pandemic.

 “The SNP Government must be fully focused on ensuring the vaccine programme is successfully rolled out as it is what is giving people hope right now."

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Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: "We learnt from polling just last month that four out of five Scottish voters - including almost two thirds of SNP supporters - want the Scottish Government to prioritise the recovery from the public health and economic crises over a second independence referendum.

"This is another example of the SNP failing to recognise Scotland's priorities. Now is not the time for another referendum.

"Scotland's priorities are jobs, our NHS and our children's education."