ONE of Nicola Sturgeon's own economic advisers and a former head of Scotland’s jobs quango have urged her to rule out a second independence referendum.

Clyde Blowers tycoon Jim McColl, a member of of the First Minister's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), and former Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry are among 160 business leaders saying economic recovery should come first.

In an open letter issued by Scottish Business UK (SBUK), run by former Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, the group said Nicola Sturgeon should “put aside everything else”.

Other signatories include former Labour MP Tom Harris, former CBI Scotland director Sir Iain McMillan and Chris Tiso, CEO of the outdoor stores, the Tiso Group.

Mr McColl backed independence in 2014.

His relationship with the Scottish Government has been  severely strained in recent years with the collapse of his Ferguson Marine shipyard after a calamitous a CalMac ferry order, although he remains on the CEA. 

The First Minister has said she wants Indyref2 by 2024, Covid permitting, with independence by 2026. 

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In the wake of the SNP winning the Holyrood election this month, coming one seat short of an overall majority, she told Boris Johnson Indyref2 was “a matter of when not if”.

However the Prime Minister said “not is not the time”, and arranged a four-nation summit on the recovery from the pandemic, saying that was the top priority.

The open letter claimed the election had sent “a clear and unambiguous message” that the Scottish Government should steer the country through the Covid crisis.

It said: “Scottish voters want and deserve a Scottish Government that will focus all of its energy on recovery from the pandemic - saving lives and livelihoods, protecting jobs and ensuring that businesses survive. 

“Every political party standing in the election put responding to and recovering from Covid at the heart of their manifestos. Fulfilling those promises means ruling out a referendum while our economy and businesses are still suffering. 

“A divisive and distracting referendum on separation would put any chance of sustaining economic recovery at risk. 

“This is not the time to be throwing into question our economic ties to the rest of the United Kingdom, which has guaranteed the survival of thousands of Scottish jobs through the pandemic and remains Scotland’s biggest market by far. 

“The Scottish Government should put everything else aside and remain laser-focused on the Covid-19 crisis and recovering from the significant economic damage it has caused. 

“Doing anything else would not be in the best interests of the Scottish people and future generations.”

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Mr Stevenson, the SBUK chief executive, said:  “The support received for this letter shows that business leaders in Scotland are of the same opinion that plans for a referendum are a huge distraction from the task at hand.

"The Scottish Government needs to listen and stop trying to position the election result as a pretext for breaking up the UK, which is by far Scotland’s biggest market.”   

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “As we recover from the pandemic, it’s vital that the SNP government focuses on growing the economy – not putting people’s jobs at risk.

“Referendum uncertainty is the last thing that businesses need.

“It’s important than the Scottish Government listens to these business leaders who know the terrible impact there will be on jobs if the economy is not prioritised.

“It’s reckless for the SNP to seek to divide communities and neighbours, which is why we need a recovery for the whole UK that brings people together.”

A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The First Minister was absolutely clear throughout the election campaign, as was the SNP manifesto, that her immediate focus was on continuing to lead Scotland safely through the pandemic.

"But once the Covid crisis has passed people in Scotland should have the right to choose their own future, and whether to equip our parliament with the powers it needs to drive Scotland’s long-term recovery or to leave our recovery in the hands of the austerity-driven Tories.

"The SNP won the election by a landslide, with a higher share of the constituency vote than any party in the history of devolution.”