Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the first minister’s priorities were “all wrong” and she should instead focus on issues such as Covid recovery and closing the attainment gap.
These should not have to “play second fiddle” to a referendum, he said.
But Nicola Sturgeon insisted she had a mandate for a referendum.
At First Minister’s Questions, she insisted that the case for independence was not separate to the big challenges – and instead was part of the solution to them.
Mr Ross said the first minister could not say whether “ferries would float” by next October – a reference to two new CalMac vessels under construction at a nationalised shipyard that are five years late and £150m over budget.
He added that the Scottish government would not have closed the poverty related attainment gap or returned NHS services to normal by then, and that the court backlogs would also not have been cleared.
Focus on recovery
The Scottish Conservative leader told the first minister: “Your priorities are all wrong at the worst possible time.
“It is a crucial moment right now for public services and our economy.
“We’ve just gone through a pandemic, war in Europe has hiked energy prices, there is a global cost-of-living crisis.”
He said it is time for people to “pull together” to tackle the issues at hand, adding: “A focus on our recovery, that’s what the Scottish people overwhelmingly want, not a referendum.
“We need a strong government for all of Scotland, but we’re getting a weak campaign group for the nationalist minority that values grievance over governing.”
The first minister replied: “Independence is about ensuring that we can better meet the priorities of the Scottish people.”
She said many of the challenges Scotland faced were exacerbated because the country was not independent, and highlighted the first in a series of papers making a “fresh” case for independence that was published by the government on Tuesday.
Ms Sturgeon claimed Mr Ross was not a democrat and accused him of being “terrified” of the debate on independence.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the first minister wanted to “hide and distract from her failures” by focusing on independence.
And he said this week had marked the return of a Nicola Sturgeon who wanted to divide the country and “pit Scot against Scot”.
Mr Sarwar added: “No wonder Nicola Sturgeon wants to hide and distract from her failures.
“Not focussing on the rising child and pensioner poverty on her watch. Not focussing on the drug deaths that have more than doubled on her watch. Not focussing on the attainment gap that is still wide open on her watch. Not focussing on the 700,000 people waiting for NHS treatment on her watch.
“After 15 years of this SNP government and eight years as first minister, when will she stop pretending she is in opposition and start governing for the people of Scotland?”