NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of putting another referendum before Scotland's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross hit out after the First Minister suggested a second referendum could be held within the next couple of years.

She said she wanted it to be in the "first half" of the next parliamentary term, when Scotland is in the "recovery phase" following the crisis.

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Mr Ross also said a pro-independence "super-majority" – as sought by Alex Salmond's Alba Party – would not strengthen the case for a second referendum.

He said: “This is the clearest sign yet that the SNP will put another referendum before Scotland’s recovery.

"Nicola Sturgeon talks of Alex Salmond being a betting man but she’s willing to gamble Scotland’s recovery on a reckless plan to break up the country.

"The Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated this week that higher levels of public spending in Scotland is possible because we’re part of the United Kingdom.

"The UK furlough scheme is still protecting Scottish jobs and people are still getting Covid jags in their arms - but Nicola Sturgeon thinks risking all of that is what’s best for Scotland?

"The SNP’s obsession with independence is clouding her judgement. The last thing Scotland needs is more uncertainty and a new constitutional crisis on top of the health and economic crisis we’re facing.

"Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed her plans are reckless but she still won’t say exactly how reckless. 

"The SNP haven’t ruled out a 2021 referendum or working with Alex Salmond’s party if they get an independence super-majority."

Speaking to journalists, Mr Ross was asked whether he agreed that a larger pro-independence majority – or super-majority – in the Scottish Parliament would strengthen the case for a referendum. 

He said: "I don't agree with that, because Alex Salmond has also suggested people will be taking to the streets to force the UK Government to provide the powers to hold another independence referendum. 

"This just tells you everything you need to know about the Alba Party and their tactics. 

"They are not going to play by the normal rules. They want to force this independence referendum on Scotland again and take us back to that division all over again."

He added: "They're only focused on having another referendum. They don't care how it's brought about, and they'd even encourage people to take to the streets in scenes that we've seen in other parts of the world that I don't think anyone wants to see here in Scotland."

Pushed on whether he would accept that a larger majority of pro-Yes MSPs strengthens the case for independence, Mr Ross said: "I think many people can see how they are trying to play the system here."

He said Mr Salmond is suggesting 70 per cent of MSPs could be pro-independence, adding: "We've never seen an opinion poll that suggests anywhere near to 70% of Scotland is in favour of another independence referendum, and certainly not while we're in the middle of a pandemic and we're trying to get through the health crisis, before we start to tackle the economic fallout.

"So that just shows how they are trying to use the current system of electing MSPs to the Scottish Parliament not to benefit the people of Scotland, but to benefit their narrow party agenda."

Mr Salmond previously suggested "peaceful street demonstrations" could be part of a strategy to help secure independence.

Ms Sturgeon was asked about the timing of another independence referendum during an interview on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says Indyref2 should only happen when Covid crisis is over

She said: "If we are out of the Covid crisis, then I would want to see an independence referendum in the first half of this parliament, because as we recover from Covid, it's really important we have the power and decision making here in Scotland to ensure we have the kind of recovery a majority want."

Asked what being out of the Covid crisis would mean in this context, she said: "That will be when we are not in the acute phase of a pandemic, when people like me are not having to stand up every day and report deaths and hospitalisations, when we are clearly in the recovery phase.

"In terms of the specific time of that, the date of that, that will be for parliament to judge."