John Swinney has said there should be a referendum on Scottish independence in the next five years as he denied the SNP are downplaying the issue in its General Election campaign.

The First Minister also responded to Rishi Sunak’s comments that the D-Day commemoration “ran over”, saying the event in Normandy had been a “huge privilege” to attend.

On Wednesday, the SNP leader was campaigning at an Asda in Edinburgh, where he joked about doing an “apprenticeship” after a brief stint scanning goods behind one of the tills.

Speaking to journalists, Mr Swinney said he “completely” rejected that his campaign is downplaying Scottish independence.

READ MORE: Flynn: We will hold referendum in five years if SNP win

He said: “What I’ve been doing throughout this election campaign is relating independence to the principal concerns that people have in Scotland.”

Mr Swinney said these concerns were the cost of living, the implications of Brexit and austerity.

He added: “What I’ve done so far in this election campaign is essentially connect the concerns of members of the public to independence.

“So that independence is not viewed as an abstract concept, but as a relevant concept.”

Mr Swinney was asked if a vote for the SNP is a vote for an independence referendum within the next five years.

READ MORE: BBC Scotland debate: Key exchanges as party leaders clash

He said: “That’s what I think should happen, that would be the best thing to happen.”

Last night Stephen Flynn, the SNP's Westminster leader, said a new referendum would take place within five years if his party won a majority of seats in Scotland.

He was asked on ITV if the SNP will hold a referendum within five years.

Mr Flynn said: "Yes, I believe we will be in a position to get those powers which are set in Westminster to be set in Holyrood and we would seek to put them into democratic effect because that is the right thing to do."

The First Minister was in Asda with his candidate for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry, who has been a vocal critic of the Scottish Government’s policies on gender recognition.

Asked about the relevance of appearing alongside her, the SNP leader said: “I think what’s important is that people see John Swinney as a figure of unity.”

On Wednesday, ITV aired footage of the Prime Minister apologising for keeping journalist Paul Brand waiting, saying the D-Day event he did attend “just ran over”.

This led to fresh attacks from the Conservatives’ opponents following Mr Sunak’s apology for leaving the commemorations early.

Mr Swinney, who also attended the event, told the PA news agency: “Every moment I spent there was absolutely precious and I would have spent even more time there, if it was possible to do so, because the experience was utterly overwhelming and a huge privilege.

“I was surprised that wasn’t reflected in the Prime Minister’s comments.”

Meanwhile,  Mr Flynn today wrote to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to urgently clarify Labour’s stance on cuts if the party wins the General Election.

He said he wants Sir Keir Starmer’s to clarify how his economic plans will not result in cuts.

It comes after First Minister clashed with Mr Sarwar over austerity during a BBC Scotland leaders’ debate on Tuesday.

During the TV showdown Mr Swinney accused Labour of looking to press on with austerity after the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned the next UK government will have to make cuts or increase taxes.

The SNP has claimed around £18 billion of public service cuts will be needed under Labour’s plans after shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said last month there will no income tax or national insurance rises.

In his letter, Mr Flynn said: “Either you are so out of the loop with your Westminster leaders that you don’t understand their plans, or you are deliberately misleading voters to avoid admitting where the axe will fall.

“If you are genuinely claiming that all of the independent experts are wrong, and that the Labour Party will scrap its conservative fiscal rules, you must explain why these claims directly contradict Keir Starmer’s stated plans.

“Otherwise, you must do the only decent thing – apologise for misleading voters and own up about where the axe will fall under the Labour Party’s cuts agenda.”

Speaking during the Debate Night leaders special on Tuesday, Mr Sarwar told Mr Swinney: “Read my lips: No austerity under Labour.

“Let me say unequivocally: There will be no austerity under a Labour government.

“We saw the consequences of Tory austerity on this country and how it devastated local budgets. We also saw the consequences of austerity imposed by John Swinney when he was finance secretary.”