THE SNP’s depute leader has been accused of “appalling” insensitivity and urged to apologise after saying the party wants the pandemic over partly to help it campaign for independence.

Keith Brown said the SNP had what he called a “selfish reason” for wanting a Covid safe environment in Scotland - mobilising the Yes movement for Indyref2.

With more than 10,000 Scots dead from confirmed or suspected Covid, Mr Brown has been criticised for the remark, which he made in a new Herald podcast.

The SNP inisted Mr Brown was focused on getting Scotland safely through the pandemic and on remobilising the NHS, and offered no apology.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “These are shameful comments from the SNP’s deputy leader.

"He must apologise immediately for such disrespectful remarks.

“Over 10,000 families in Scotland are grieving the loss of loved ones due to Covid, yet Keith Brown’s priority is getting out to campaign for independence.

“The SNP are wildly out of touch with people’s priorities. For Keith Brown and his nationalist colleagues, it couldn’t be clearer that independence comes first over Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus.

“All our focus should be on rebuilding our communities from the devastating effects of the pandemic.”

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray MP said: “This is appalling. More than 10,000 Scots have lost their lives and the SNP deputy leader can only think of what set of circumstances are most favourable to his party. This tells you everything about the SNP's priorities.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrats’ campaign chair Alistair Carmichael said: "People will be horrified that the deputy leader of the SNP wants to start campaigning for an independence referendum the very moment that restrictions are lifted.

"The SNP will not allow any time for economic recovery or for education bounce back.

"This quick dash for a referendum will get in the way of recovery.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of the anti-independence group Scotland in Union, added: These are insensitive remarks which could be upsetting for those still grieving or struggling with the impact of Covid.

“What Keith Brown also doesn’t appear to understand is that the Covid crisis isn’t over when lockdown restrictions are all lifted.

“There will be a long-lasting impact on jobs, the NHS, education and people’s mental health.

“The recovery will take many years, which is why it would be reckless to hold a referendum which would divide Scotland when we should be bringing people together through a national recovery.”

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants Indyref2 before 2024, with independence itself in 2026.

The SNP manifesto for this week’s Holyrood election said the referendum should be “once the immediate Covid crisis has passed but in good time to quip our powers it needs to drive our long-term recovery from Covid”.

Mr Brown, SNP depute leader and standing campaigns director since June 2018, revealed another factor when asked about the timing.

He said it would be “when the Covid pandemic allows it to be conducted in a safe environment.

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

“That’s the right and responsible thing to do. It also means that the government - if the SNP are re-elected to government - will be focused on making sure that Scotland has that Covid safe environment.

“That’s very important.

“And also there’s a selfish reason as well, because my party and the movement for independence is by far the biggest in terms of activity, in terms of campaigning, that there is in Scotland, and we want to be able to do that."So, safety first, the Covid environment determines when that can be safely held.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "Keith, like everyone in the SNP, is focused on getting Scotland safely through the pandemic and into recovery as set out in our plan to invest in remobilising the NHS, creating jobs and supporting our society to carefully and cautiously reopen.

"Whilst we are focussed on Scotland safely passing through the pandemic, the Tories have been prepared to throw caution to the wind by opening up too early, re-opening foreign travel, risking our progress and undermining the vaccine rollout."