The SNP government is using its push for a second referendum to “divert” attention from its record on “education and drugs”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says.
During a visit to Scotland on Thursday, Mr Johnson said having another vote on Scottish independence would be like not “minding what you had to eat, provided you ate with a spoon”.
The Conservative leader toured research facilities in Glasgow and Livingston, where he said work is ongoing in the production of another vaccine against coronavirus.
He said the country should come “together” to beat coronavirus.
The UK has registered more than 100,000 deaths as a result of the disease since March last year.
He met Royal Scots Dragoon Guards setting up a vaccination centre, even bumping elbows to greet the soldiers at the site in Castlemilk, Glasgow.
The prime minister hailed the Lighthouse Laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow as “amazing”, while announcing scientists at Valneva in Livingston were working on a vaccine for the “whole of Britain”.
He also told reporters he “may have” done and seen other things, but he could not recall during his address.
Mr Johnson said it is “difficult” to make criticisms of Scotland because he is the “prime minister of the whole of the UK”, before saying the SNP government in Holyrood did not have a successful record on education and drugs.
He said: “It is, alas, a fact that the SNP government has not been notably successful in delivering good results on education or on tackling drugs, and in many other ways.
“I think it’s a mark of their general diversionary tactics that they continue to talk about a referendum rather than about domestic political concerns, which I think are the crucial things.”
He would not be drawn on whether his UK Government would challenge a second independence referendum should the SNP win in May, which polls predict they will, and added: “I have to say, I think endless talk about a referendum, without any clear description of what the constitutional situation would be after that referendum, is completely irrelevant now to the concerns of most people who, I think, want us to beat this pandemic and come through it strongly together.”
Police called on PM
Mr Johnson defended his visit to Scotland during lockdown, following criticism from a number of politicians including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Ms Sturgeon had earlier questioned whether the prime minister’s visit was “essential”, given current restrictions.
Police Scotland confirmed they had received a “small number” of complaints about the prime ministerial visit but added: “This is a working visit in his official capacity as Prime Minister and we are policing the event appropriately.”
Anas Sarwar MSP, Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesperson, said both the SNP and Conservative government’s were too focused on division.
He said: “This is yet another manufactured row between the SNP and the Tories at a time of national crisis.
“Both the Prime Minister and First Minister say they want to bring our country together, yet all they seem focused on is division.
“They should both be entirely focused on defeating Covid. People expect their governments to work together in the national interest.”
Deputy SNP leader Keith Brown MSP, said: “Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled.
“By branding this campaign trip as ‘essential’, this is clearly a prime minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.
“Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.
“We also know that, behind closed doors, and away from public view, Michael Gove has also been using taxpayer cash to conduct his own polling for the Tory government. But now, he doesn’t want to share the results. What do they have to hide?
“Scotland didn’t vote for this Tory government, we didn’t vote for Brexit and we certainly didn’t vote for Boris Johnson. Yet, in the middle of a global pandemic, we’ve been ripped out of the world’s biggest single market against our will, causing havoc for businesses and piling even more pressure on our NHS.
“No wonder that more and more people in Scotland want the right to choose their own future. The longer Boris Johnson reads from the Trump playbook of democracy denial, the more support for Scottish independence will grow.”