Independence is an “essential priority” for Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
His comments came as Sir Keir Starmer said there should not be another “divisive” vote, although he conceded that the current system is not working.
The UK Labour leader has previously said there should be a “constitutional convention” to revamp devolution, rather than an independence referendum.
Polling on independence has seen a shift in attitudes in the last six months, with support for separation becoming the majority in June and more than a dozen subsequent surveys showing a continued lead for the Yes side.
Sir Keir told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I don’t think there should be another referendum, I don’t think a further divisive referendum is the way forward.
“But I do accept that the status quo isn’t working. I don’t accept the argument that the status quo isn’t working, the next thing you do is go to a referendum.
“I think there are other things you can do, other arguments that can be made in support of the United Kingdom.”
However, speaking on Politics Scotland later in the day, Mr Swinney said: “An independence referendum is an essential priority for the people of Scotland, because it gives us the opportunity to choose how we rebuild as a country from Covid.
“It would give us an opportunity to decide on our constitutional future and to determine the nature of our economy and the way we deal with and support our citizens. It’s a critical response to Covid.”
A statement from the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, on Sunday also described another vote as “essential”.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly said a pro-independence majority in Holyrood after May’s elections should mean the UK Government allowing another independence referendum.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said it should be up to 40 years before another vote is held, holding on to the “once-in-a-generation” assertion made by various people in the Yes campaign during the original 2014 vote.
Sir Keir said he does not agree with the Prime Minister’s timeframe, but refused to say when he would accept another vote on separation.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard referenced a Survation poll commissioned by his party, saying: “We learnt from polling just last month that four out of five Scottish voters – including almost two thirds of SNP supporters – want the Scottish Government to prioritise the recovery from the public health and economic crises over a second independence referendum.
“This is another example of the SNP failing to recognise Scotland’s priorities. Now is not the time for another referendum.”
Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Dean Lockhart said Mr Swinney’s priorities should be a successful Covid-19 vaccine rollout and business support, rather than “another divisive independence referendum”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie backed a federal reformation of the UK over a second independence referendum.