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Nicola Sturgeon is prepared to drive Scotland’s economy "off the edge of a cliff" by calling an independence referendum before the country has recovered from coronavirus, the Scottish Tories have warned.
The First Minister on Sunday confirmed that she wanted to hold a new vote on leaving the UK so that she could be in full control of the long-term recovery from the pandemic, rather than Boris Johnson.
Ms Sturgeon has increasingly sought to present the choice facing voters in Thursday’s crucial election as one between her and the Prime Minister, and said she wanted a new referendum so Scots could decide "what kind of country we recover to".
However, she admitted that detailed plans for how issues such as a hard border with England would operate and what currency an independent Scotland would use had not yet been drawn up.
A series of impartial experts have recently warned that Scotland's large deficit would mean painful spending cuts or tax rises if Scotland broke away from the UK.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said that Ms Sturgeon’s comments made clear that she was preparing to hold a referendum "while Scotland is still reeling from the impact of Covid".
While the SNP manifesto states that a new referendum should be held "after the Covid crisis is over", there is little detail over how this would be defined.
The First Minister told the BBC that while her immediate focus would be on leading Scotland through the immediate "crisis", a referendum should be held in time for Scots to decide who should be in the "driving seat" while the country is recovering from Covid-19.
"The threat has never been more real - Sturgeon is explicit," Mr Ross said. "If she secures a Holyrood majority, she will hold a damaging and divisive referendum while Scotland is still reeling from the impact of Covid.
"This is beyond irresponsible. When our Scottish Parliament should be entirely focused on rebuilding and recovery, Sturgeon will plunge us into chaos and uncertainty.
"She talks about being in the driving seat - the problem is she wants to drive our economy off the edge of a cliff."
Polls suggest that while there will be a pro-independence Parliament in the new Holyrood term, whether or not the SNP will claim an outright majority hangs in the balance.
Ms Sturgeon has tried to shift the focus away from her independence plans over recent days, as public support for separation has plunged in the polls.
In an "open letter" to Scots published on Sunday, she did not mention independence once but instead emphasised her experience, presenting herself as the only serious candidate for First Minister.
Two large SNP-branded buses which are travelling around Scotland during the final days of the campaign also make no mention of a referendum or a separation plan.
However, pushed in a BBC interview over the timing of a referendum, Ms Sturgeon said that the issue of recovery from coronavirus "is not separate to who takes the decisions and where power lies".
She admitted she did not have detailed plans over how difficult issues such as an "inevitable" hard border with England if Scotland joined the EU or single currency could be resolved, but insisted these would be presented ahead of any new referendum.
Ms Sturgeon plans to hold a new vote by 2023, although it remains unclear how quickly Scotland would become independent after any vote in favour of separation, as negotiations with the UK Government would be needed to resolve several highly complex issues.
"If we don't decide to take the longer term recovery into our own hands, the real risk, just as was the case after the financial crash, is we’ve got another decade of Tory austerity," Ms Sturgeon said.
"My focus will be on continuing to steer us through Covid and then, yes, giving people the right to decide what kind of country do we want Scotland to recover to and who should be in the driving seat of that.
"I don’t want Boris Johnson making the decisions about the kind of country Scotland needs to become."
Ms Sturgeon also accused unionists of scaremongering over issues such as the currency and the border, insisting the election this week is "not an independence referendum".
She vowed to serve a full five year term if re-elected and admitted that the SNP has "not yet done enough" to close the educational attainment gap between rich and poor, despite being in power for 14 years.
"We are not saying there are not big challenges to address in this country, but we are the only party doing the work and putting forward the plans to actually do that," she said.
"And that's the choice people have on Thursday, do you want to vote for parties that are vying for second place, openly saying they have got no plan for government, or do you want a serious First Minister, an experienced First Minister that is leading a Government that is serious about tackling the challenges."