NICOLA Sturgeon should put the national interest first and abandon plans for a second independence referendum, Alistair Carmichael has said.

The long-serving Liberal Democrat MP warned the UK will be grappling with the "long tail of Covid" for up to a decade and governments should focus on that.

He said the SNP's pursuit of independence was "pretty much the same" as the Tories' pursuit of Brexit in Westminster.

He added: "They are both good examples of political parties with a nationalist, populist bent determined to pursue the party interest rather than the national interest."

Mr Carmichael, his party's spokesman on constitutional reform, made the comments to journalists before he addressed the opening day of the Liberal Democrats' online conference.

He told activists the UK Government's response to refugees crossing the English Channel "shames our country". 

He said: “I don’t know if our Home Secretary [Priti Patel] lacks the empathy or imagination to put herself in the place of these desperate people who take these risks to get to our shores. But I do know that her response to that growing crisis shames our country.

“Her response to people fleeing from war, persecution or torture is to send boats out to the middle of the English Channel and force them back towards France as if she is playing some sort of life size game of whack-a-mole."

Speaking to journalists, Mr Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, was asked about the First Minister's plans to hold a referendum by the end of 2023, Covid permitting.

He said: "It doesn't matter what the question is, they always manage to bring it back to independence. 

"I think it is quite remarkable, and I think Nicola Sturgeon knows this herself, to think that we are going to be past the challenges of Covid in the next few months or even the next couple of years. 

"We are going to be facing the long tail of Covid for possibly up to a decade, and really that should be the priority of governments in Holyrood, in Westminster, in Belfast and in Cardiff.

"I think Nicola Sturgeon knows that herself, but she also knows that if she were ever actually to level with her own party and the zealots in the party activist base, then they would consume her. 

"So that's why she keeps talking about this, but the challenge for Nicola Sturgeon eventually will be does she do the right thing for the country, as you might have hoped a nationalist might, or else is she just going to keep pursuing a party interest?"

He said Scottish independence would be "Brexit on steroids".

Elsewhere, Mr Carmichael said the Tories' "foolish" approach to immigration is stopping industries from recovering from the pandemic. 

He told the party conference that new immigration rules are depriving businesses of the workers they need.