Anas Sarwar expects there to be another Scottish independence referendum “when the time is right” but said Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson have “misjudged” how long recovery from the pandemic will take.
The Scottish Labour leader suggested the constitutional status quo was broken but insisted the immediate focus must be on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
The SNP has called for another referendum to be held before the end of 2023, once the coronavirus crisis is over, although a campaign could still happen during any recovery phase.
But Mr Sarwar has called for a “relentless focus” on rebuilding the country from the impact of the pandemic and urged the First Minister and Prime Minister to put an end to “arguments and fights” about independence until the country had recovered.
Speaking to the PA news agency during a campaign visit to Airdrie and Shotts ahead of Thursday’s Westminster by-election, Mr Sarwar said the country was “deeply divided” about independence but Scotland’s political parties should unite to “build a stronger, fairer, greener nation”.
He said: “We promised to focus on the recovery, let’s focus on that recovery.
“But when the time is right, of course, we’re going to have to think about what an alternative position is that doesn’t go on to break the United Kingdom, but also doesn’t say that things as they are, are good enough.”
Mr Sarwar added: “Boris Johnson Nicola Sturgeon have both misjudged how long they think this recovery is going to last.
“We have taken an economic hit even sharper and deeper than the banking crisis and that’s gonna take time for us to overcome.
“So I’m going to hold them to their word – they promised that we’re going to focus on recovery, not have fights about the constitution.
“Scotland’s future is not some kind of game, it’s not some brinksmanship between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson.
“So let’s stop talking about the constitution and the referendum – like every mainstream political party promised – let’s focus on this recovery and let’s come through this and build a stronger and fairer nation.”
Looking ahead to the by-election, triggered by the resignation of former SNP MP Neil Gray who has since been elected to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Sarway said: “We have an opportunity to elect a local champion, someone who’s going to fight for you and your family in national recovery in Kenny Stevenson.
“Kenny’s heart is in Airdrie and Shotts. This is his home, this is where he belongs, this is the community he cares about.
“And if you want to send someone from your own community down to parliament to fight for you, then you need to vote for Kenneth Stevenson.”