THE SNP have reaffirmed that an independence referendum is “essential” to Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic after Keir Starmer dismissed calls for another plebiscite.

The Labour leader, despite admitting the status quo “isn’t working” for Scots, insisted that now is not the time for indyref2.

He did, however, reject Boris Johnson’s claim that a second vote should be blocked until 2055.

“I don’t think there should be another referendum,” Starmer told Andrew Marr. “I don’t think another divisive referendum is the right way forward. But I do accept the status quo isn’t working. But I don’t accept the argument that if the status quo isn’t working, then the next thing you do is go to a referendum. I think there are other things you can do, other arguments that can be made in support of a United Kingdom.”

Last week, the Prime Minister told Marr that the 55-year wait for another referendum was “right” because there was a similar gap between UK plebiscites on European membership.

Asked about those remarks, Starmer said: “I heard the Prime Minister say that and I don’t agree with him on that.”

Meanwhile, deputy First Minister John Swinney insisted independence is a top priority for the Scottish Government. He said on BBC Politics Live: “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.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the SNP’s depute Westminster leader, who issued a stinging rebuke to Starmer.

Kirsten Oswald said: “An independence referendum is essential to allow the people of Scotland to strategically decide how, as a country, we rebuild our economy and how we prioritise social policy as we emerge from the pandemic.

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“Right now, the Scottish Government is prioritising a strong and green economic recovery but it is doing so with one hand tied behind its back as key fiscal powers remain reserved to Westminster.

“At the end of the day, it’s not up to Keir Starmer or any other politician to determine if there is a referendum on independence – that is a matter for the people of Scotland themselves.”

Starmer also argued that indyref2 shouldn’t be on the table because Scots’ main focus is tackling the pandemic.

But Oswald pointed to soaring support for independence in the polls, with 17 consecutive surveys recording majority backing for Yes. Polls have also suggested that around 40% of Labour voters back independence.

The SNP MP added: “The most recent polls show support for Scottish independence consistently sitting at over 50% – the momentum is very much with the Yes campaign. Labour’s opposition to a referendum is completely unsustainable – particularly when many of its own members recognise that to stand in the way of one would be undemocratic.

“The more the Tories and Labour try to ignore Scotland’s democratic mandate to choose our own future, the more support for a fresh referendum – and for independence itself – will continue to grow.

“As the consequences of Brexit become clearer by the day in 2021, so does the fact that it is only with the full powers of independence as a country inside the EU that Scotland will be able to secure a strong economic recovery and protect its future.”

The SNP comments on indyref2 sparked fury among Scottish Labour and Tory politicians.

Scottish Tory constitution spokesperson Dean Lockhart claimed it “beggars belief” that the SNP named indyref2 as a priority during the pandemic.

Richard Leonard added: “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.”

Starmer was also condemned for reaffirming his support for Brexit and ruling out a push to reinstate freedom of movement. The Labour leader told Marr that “there is a case for re-joining the EU”. While on freedom of movement, he stated: “I don’t think there’s an argument for reopening those aspects of the treaty.”

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine commented: “There we have it – both the Tories and Labour are signed up to a hard Brexit and seem content with having endangered Scotland’s economy and future. None of the main parties in Scotland or the UK will offer a route back to the EU for Scotland.”