RISHI Sunak has intervened in the Holyrood election in the absence of the Prime Minister, claiming a second independence referendum is the "one clear risk” to economic recovery.

The Chancellor said another vote on the constitution would “needlessly divide our country at the worst possible time”, when health and education should be the priorities.

Mr Sunak is the most senior Tory to weigh into the campaign so far, after Boris Johnson chose to avoid Scotland, despite previously saying “wild horses” wouldn’t keep him away.

The intervention came as the SNP continued to downplay Indyref2 in its final push.

After Sunday newspaper and online adverts in which the party failed to mention Indyref2, the SNP today issued a statement by Nicola Sturgeon which also omitted it.

Instead, the First Minister stressed her “experienced leadership” through the pandemic.

Mr Sunak underlined the £13.3bn in Covid-related support the UK Treasury had given Scotland since the health and jobs crisis began - £9.7b last year and £3.6bn in 2021/22.

Urging voters to back the Tories on the regional list for Holyrood, he said: “My number one priority is to protect and support as many jobs as possible. Our furlough and self-employed income support schemes have together protected over one million Scottish jobs. 

 “It is vital, for the whole United Kingdom, that we continue to stick together, finish the job of getting through this health crisis, move onto the task of rebuilding our economy and build a better country for future generations.

“There is one clear risk to this shared goal, and that is the uncertainty of a second independence referendum. 

“It would needlessly divide our country and at the worst possible time. 

“Instead, we should be focused on the job prospects of young people in Scotland, they have borne the economic brunt and need the most support. 

“We should be focused on the quality of healthcare and education in Scotland, because you can’t have a strong economy with healthy and high skilled population. And we need to focus on making our streets safer, protecting people and communities from crime.”

READ MORE: SNP deputy admits ‘selfish’ campaign reasons for wanting pandemic over

He added: “The last twelve months has shown that in the darkest of moments, all four nations of the United Kingdom benefit from each other and our partnership.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who angered Downing Street on Sunday by saying the PM should resign if he broke the ministerial code, campaigned in Edinburgh this morning with his predecessor Ruth Davidson. 

Urging non-Tory voters to back the party “just this once” to stop Indyref2, Mr Ross said: “The UK furlough scheme is protecting Scottish jobs and the UK vaccine scheme is tackling the health crisis.

“Now more than ever, we need to stick together and focus on protecting jobs and rebuilding Scotland’s economy using the firm foundations of the United Kingdom.

“In just 72 hours, the future of the country hangs in the balance. 

“But poll after poll shows that the Scottish Conservatives can stop the SNP’s push for another referendum, just like we did in 2016.” 

Ms Sturgeon said: "The first job of a newly elected government will be to decide on whether we are ready to lift restrictions even further on the 17th May.

"That’s why I believe Scotland needs serious leadership for serious times.

“I am confident that the country is on the right track, and we will be able to take further steps to free up society and allow our economy to begin to recover.

“With infection levels low and over 60% of people in Scotland having had their first dose of the vaccine, and over 1.2m having had their second dose, we are moving in the right direction but we must protect that progress.

“We have come together over the last year to get through the pandemic together, with people going to extraordinary lengths, whether working in our NHS, frontline services, working and schooling from home or making huge personal sacrifices.

“If we apply the same approach to recovery, and all come together to build a better, fairer society then there is nothing that Scotland cannot achieve.”