Opposition leaders have labelled plans to continue with the push to pass a referendum bill, which would provide a legislative framework for a second referendum, by May as “absurd”.
Both the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives called on the SNP to cancel the plans following the announcement of a new Covid-19 lockdown on Monday.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said recovery from the “colossal new wave” of Covid-19 must be put first and the campaign for independence should be “locked down”.
He said: “The last time people were told to stay at home the First Minister suspended her constitutional campaign and stopped all work in government on the matter. The country and the NHS are now in an even more perilous situation, so she needs to do that again.
“Civil servants are being put to work right now on the SNP’s next Independence Bill. That is the wrong priority for government. That work and any other work on independence should cease without delay.
“Just before Christmas, the First Minister criticised Boris Johnson for pursuing Brexit in the middle of a pandemic. When I challenged her to suspend the independence campaign for the very same reason, she declined.
"She was wrong then and she will be even more wrong now if she fails to act. Just because Boris Johnson failed to listen does not mean she has to copy him. There is no justification for pursuing such massive constitutional change in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Ms Sturgeon won plaudits from experts who praised her decision to pause campaigning for Scottish independence in March last year, while Mr Johnson continued to work towards a hard Brexit.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross labelled any decision to prioritise independence “absurd” and “irresponsible”.
He said: “The SNP’s choice to prioritise their indyref Bill is more absurd than ever when the country is in lockdown and people across Scotland only care about fighting this pandemic.
“There is so little time left in this term and the Parliament’s essential work will clearly be limited by the impact of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It would be irresponsible in the extreme to keep diverting precious time and civil servants attention away from the most important issues – like the vaccine delivery, education and protecting jobs – and onto another divisive referendum instead.
“We can’t waste time on the same constitutional arguments of the last 13 years when all our attention should be on moving on from this pandemic.”
In response, a spokesperson for the First Minister said: “No one is proposing holding an independence referendum in the middle of the pandemic – unlike the Tories, who have disgracefully ploughed ahead with Brexit amid the Covid crisis.
“It is not for the Tories, or the Lib Dems – who are now a pro-Brexit party – to dictate to the people of Scotland what choices they should have over the nation’s future. That will only be decided by the people themselves in the coming election.
“We have a Programme for Government commitment to publish a Bill before the end of this current parliament, to set out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously.”