FORMER Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill blasted Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership yesterday, describing what he claims is a lack of preparation for indyref2 as “not just negligent but criminal”.

Writing in the Scottish Left Review, the MP for East Lothian said the party should be updating economic plans in light of the Covid-19 pandemic or addressing issues over currency, pensions and post-Brexit borders.

Instead, he complained, there was a “self-satisfied parroting of opinion poll results”.

Earlier this week, launching her Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for a new draft Referendum Bill before next year’s Holyrood election.

She told MSPs: “Before the end of this Parliament, we will publish a draft bill, setting out the proposed terms and timing of an independence referendum, as well as the proposed question that people will be asked in that referendum.

“And then at next year’s election, we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country and seek a clear endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose our own future.”

However, MacAskill said that wasn’t enough and that the party’s supporters were growing restless.

“Underpinning all the discontent has been a growing despair at the failure of SNP HQ to prepare for indyref2,” he said.

“Even flagrant sins would be pardoned by some if progress was being made toward the Holy Grail. But instead, it’s been moribundity that’s prevailed [with] a leadership doing little if anything to progress it.

“As the SNP vote has increased and support for independence likewise, the case for it hasn’t been getting built in equal proportions.

“Rather than stitching up selection ballots, members were rightly expecting preparations were begun to achieve and win indyref2.

“Polls are favourable and the British state is in turmoil under an incompetent administration. But no-one underestimates the scale of the challenge that remains or the onslaught that will be launched in the future. That’s why there’s underlying anger and frustration.

“Instead, we’ve been presented with a self-satisfied parroting of opinion poll results rather than laying the groundwork for the real test to come.

“The Growth Commission was belated in its delivery and is now outdated in its content. And neither the issues that were pivotal in indyref1 in 2014 such as currency and pensions nor the new ones post-Brexit of relations with the EU and borders have been addressed.

“That many see as not just negligent but criminal.”

MacAskill also criticised the “hatchet job” on MP Joanna Cherry that stopped her standing for Holyrood, which he blamed on SNP HQ.

He said the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) had been “brought into contempt” by the “flagrant Tammany Hall-style” manoeuvring of some of its members.

He said the leadership’s resistance to internal debate risked weakening the wider Yes movement and “individuals lost to the cause”.

MacAskill continued: “The SNP cannot be the political equivalent of some strict Presbyterian sect, simply chorusing the chants of the precentor.

“The scale of the party now, let alone the nationalist movement, makes that a non-starter – never mind the fact that it’s entirely inappropriate in a membership-based body, as well as a democracy.

“Moreover, there are issues to discuss, and not just policy required, to win the next referendum. Recent actions or inactions can neither be ignored nor brushed aside, otherwise the movement will be weakened and individuals lost to the cause.

“Openness is required and debate accordingly is both necessary and healthy.”

In a separate column for The Scotsman, MacAskill said frustration was growing with party HQ amongst many of the rank and file.

“Failures in election preparation are matched by a lack of progress on policy issues for an independence referendum.

“Something seems amiss and the lack of scrutiny is frightening.”

MacAskill said those “charged by the membership with overseeing the party need to do so”. He added: “It’s fundamental and this is simply unacceptable.

“Those in party office need to forsake pursuing their own narrow agenda and get on with the day job.”

A party source told The National: “Sir John Curtice is more positive about recent polling than Kenny.”