Michael Gove has ripped into Humza Yousaf’s independence strategy– insisting the UK Government would see any attempt to open negotiations for separation as “a distraction and a diversion”.

Humza Yousaf set out his blueprint for independence at a special SNP conference last weekend, insisting that a vote for the SNP at the next Westminster general election would be a vote for independence.

The First Minister said that if the SNP secures victory in that election, due before the end of next year, he would open negotiations with the UK Government over Scotland leaving the Union.

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The First Minister said the UK Government would face a decision whether to allow a referendum to take place or whether to accept the election result as a mandate for independence.

But Mr Gove, the UK Levelling Up Secretary, has rubbished the plans to treat the election as a vote on independence and stressed the public is focused more on “economic challenges”.

Speaking to journalists in Edinburgh, Mr Gove said: "The First Minister will shape his campaign in the way he wants on behalf of the SNP, but at a general election what we're doing is choosing a UK Government, and a number of issues will be raised by different parties.

"It's a long way out before we have that general election, and the UK Government's position on any form of independence referendum is that when we have so many other challenges to face.”

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Mr Gove added that “it's a distraction and a diversion from dealing effectively with the economic challenges we face, with improving the NHS, working together to improve education and attract investment."

The UK minister also hit out at the SNP’s partners in government, the Scottish Greens, criticising the part over “impractical” policies and wishing to pursue a strategy of “anti-economic growth”.

Mr Gove criticised the Scottish Government’s troubled deposit return scheme.

The Herald on Sunday revealed that Mr Gove has approached the Scottish Government as far back as 2018 to work in collaboration with Westminster over the recycling policy.

Mr Gove said that “we wanted to work with the Scottish Government” and “were prepared to give them an exclusion from the UK internal market act in order to make it work”.

He added: “The evidence is that the Scottish Government hadn't done the necessary preparation to be able to deliver the scheme in an appropriate way.

“I think there's a broader issue as well here. Obviously, we work with the Scottish Government and we want to work collaboratively with them.”

Mr Gove claimed that “a number of things have gone wrong recently”, highlighting both the deposit return scheme and the Scottish Government U-turn over Highly Protect Marine Areas (HPMAs).

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He said: “It’s a case of the Greens in the Scottish Government operating in a way that isn’t pro economic growth and doesn’t respect the specific needs of either the north east or Scotland’s rural and island communities.

“So, it’s a policy disagreement with the Green party that I have rather than any personal criticism of any individual.”