John Swinney, the SNP leader, came under fresh attack yesterday from one of his own back benchers, who said Alex Neil would have been a better leader.

The criticism came from Campbell Martin, who backed little-known activist Bill Wilson's attempt last year to oust Mr Swinney.

''I'm not the first person to say that I have doubts about John's charisma or his ability to inspire people,'' said Mr Martin, who went on to praise SSP leader Tommy Sheridan as ''a charismatic figure in Scottish politics''.

His comments came in an interview with Holyrood magazine where Mr Martin, MSP for West of Scotland, accused the party, under the leadership first of Alex Salmond and then John Swinney, of losing touch with the public mood.

''The party began to move to the right under Alex Salmond,'' he said. ''I wish we were more to the left that we are are the moment. For the SNP to succeed we need to be more in touch with the people of Scotland, who are left-of-centre.''

Mr Martin made no attempt to hide his dissatisfaction with Mr Swinney and did nothing to dispel expectations that any SNP failure to perform well at the European elections will lead to fresh questioning of Mr Swinney's gradualist strategy.

''I think that any leader of a political party would look at the performances of the party under their leadership and ask themselves questions,'' said Mr Martin.

And he paid tribute to Alex Neil, who was defeated by John Swinney in the leadership battle triggered by Alex Salmond's decision to stand down in 2000.

''I think we'd be more in touch with the people of Scotland,'' he said.

''We should be arguing about the level of jobs, health, and education - the things that really matter to people.''