NICOLA Sturgeon has shown “more timidity than radicalism” as First Minister, and risks “managing decline” like Labour, a former cabinet secretary has warned.

On the eve of this week's SNP conference in Glasgow, Kenneth MacAskill said the SNP was hugely successful at winning elections, but seemed unsure about how to use power in office.

Writing in the Times, he said: “The SNP has become a formidable electoral force, replacing the old Labour machine, able to win elections but seemingly unsure what to do thereafter.

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“The First Minister’s political agenda has been marked more by timidity than radicalism, other than on gender.

“The danger is that her government ends up simply managing, not leading, the political agenda; much as Labour did in years before devolution.

“Mitigating austerity but managing decline.”

With party delegates due to debate whether a second referendum on independence should be automatically linked to Brexit this week, Mr MacAskill stressed the need to damp down expectations and do more to convince wary No voters on the currency and the economy.

“Lighting the fiery cross frightens, not convinces them. It’s work on the core issues that needs to be done,” he said.

Mr MacAskill, who was Justice Secretary for the first seven years of the SNP government, said a second referendum was “almost certain”, but said the timing was key.

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He also said Ms Sturgeon, who has ordered civil servants to produce a draft referendum bill, was was right to prepare for a fresh vote, especially given the lack of UK planning over Brexit.

However he urged caution in light of the uncertainty caused by Brexit.

He said: “Brexit has changed things govern the dangers the UK faces.

“There’s so much uncertainty that it’s hard to see how a vote could be called in the absence of clarity on the core issues of currency, EU and relationship with the rest of the UK.

“Soaking up the impassioned rhetoric from the conference floor is fine, but seeing off the demands for an immediate second referendum is essential.”

Writing in the Herald last month, Mr MacAskill warned against a “headlong rush to disaster” with a premature referendum, adding: “Glorious defeat would put the dream back catastrophically, even if some enjoyed the journey. Wiser counsel must prevail.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “The cracks in the SNP on independence are growing. The First Minister’s impulsive rush towards independence over the summer has now been criticised by a growing group of senior members including [MP] Tommy Sheppard, MEP Alyn Smith and [MSP] Joan McAlpine.

Read more: Calling second independence referendum might cause greater division than Brexit poll, warns leading academic

“The First Minister's own members are now calling on her to get on with the day job of improving Scotland and she would do well to listen to those calls.

"The SNP are all over the place on what to do which is why Nicola Sturgeon needs to bring an end to this damaging uncertainty and rule out another independence referendum."

Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman insisted the government had made “radical, long-term reforms such as those to police, colleges, health and social care services, and our school curriculum.

“This term we have made clear there will be no let up in our reform agenda.

“For instance, we’ll continue to invest in the future of our health service by expanding primary, community and social care services.

“We will be carrying out reforms to local taxation to deliver a funding boost for schools in the most deprived areas, and we will use new powers coming to the Scottish parliament to build a social security system based on dignity and respect.

“The First Minister has repeatedly said the decline of the Labour Party serves as a stark warning to the SNP never to take a single vote for granted.”