A FORMER SNP Cabinet Secretary has called for Nicola Sturgeon’s husband to be replaced as party chief executive in the wake of the General Election result.

Kenny MacAskill said that Peter Murrell being married to the SNP leader “must” affect his judgement as CEO and called for him to go after a successor is found.

Allies of former SNP leader Alex Salmond also questioned Sturgeon’s election tactics, arguing that she offered no “cohesive” strategy or persuasive reasons to vote for the party.

In what was undoubtedly Sturgeon’s worst week as leader the SNP lost 21 of their 56 Westminster seats, a devastating result that has triggered a bout of soul-searching.

Party figures have said behind the scenes that part of the SNP’s problem is rooted in too much power being concentrated at the top of the organisation. When Sturgeon became leader in 2014 her husband Murrell was kept as the party’s chief executive.

MacAskill, who was Justice Secretary between 2007 and 2014, last week wrote that the First Minister has “centralised party control” and was at the forefront of the campaign, despite it being a Westminster election.

Asked by the Sunday Herald if he believes that the chief executive being married to the party leader is an issue, MacAskill said: “Yes. Even if subconscious it must affect his judgment. Trouble is no one can step in at [the] moment as he's never done a succession strategy. They need to recruit a deputy with the intention of replacing him in a year.”

MacAskill’s call for Murrell to be dumped will infuriate Sturgeon, but it chimes with the views of some party figures who would like greater accountability in the higher echelons.

According to an SNP annual report Murrell is “responsible for the day-to-day running of SNP activities and project”, but critics say a husband and wife team raises questions about checks and balances.

In 2014, the SNP hired the Glasgow Hydro so that around 12,000 people could listen to a speech by the new leader, a decision described by one insider as “promoting Nicola, not the party”.

Asked in the same year about fears she and Murrell would be an overbearing power couple if she became leader, Sturgeon said:

"I've been deputy leader for years while Peter's been chief executive for 10 years. That's not been an issue that's given rise to any concern internally.

"In the constitution of the SNP, the oversight of the administrative side of the party lies with the business convener, not with the leader. So I'm comfortable there are no issues that arise."

Asked in a separate interview whether she would ever sack Murrell, she said: “If I thought it was merited.”

However, a senior party figure who is an ally of Salmond was critical of the party’s election campaign. “There was no cohesive strategy at all,” he said. “We did not give people a reason to vote for the SNP.”

A second insider, who is also a Salmond admirer, said Sturgeon would have to shelve a second independence referendum and focus on getting a positive Brexit deal for Scotland. He predicted that the SNP and Greens would fail to win a majority of Holyrood seats in 2021, thus killing off the prospect of another referendum.

Labour MSP James Kelly said: “It’s quite clear that Nicola Sturgeon’s woeful record in government cost the SNP seats in this election.

"And questions will rightly be asked within the SNP about the panicked campaign that Peter Murrell helped run, which culminated in the farcical attempt to tell voters to back the SNP to get Labour. It was confused, incompetent and desperate.”

A Scottish Tory spokesman said: "It is not surprising to hear dissent in the ranks of the SNP after such a terrible result on Friday. While the SNP lost 21 MPs and barely clung on to several others, the Scottish Conservatives recorded a huge increase in votes and won 13 seats.

"Rather than focusing on internal wrangling, however, the SNP would be better served taking the threat of a second referendum off the table and get back to governing Scotland."

The SNP did not respond to this newspaper's email.