NICOLA Sturgeon has been branded borderline delusional after describing the reaction to the SNP’s Growth Commission as “heartening”.

Despite a week of intense criticism from the Left of the Yes movement, the First Minister said publication of the 354-page report had “shifted political debate in a very positive direction”.

Her comments coincided with Dennis Canavan, who chaired the Yes Scotland campaign in 2014, criticising the report as over-reliant on the “Scottish establishment”.

The Scottish Socialist Party, which was part of Yes Scotland, also issued an open letter urging the wider Yes movement to reject the “divisive, conservative document”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says Growth Commission could win over No voters

The Commission, chaired by corporate lobbyist Andrew Wilson, forecast years of tight public spending to halve the deficit after a Yes vote and recommended keeping the pound.

It has been attacked by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, former SNP MP George Kerevan, the Common Weal thinktank, and Yes-leaning commentators Iain Macwhirter, Mike Small, Alex Bell and Darren McGarvey.

A common complaint is the report’s austerity-lite prescription for the early years and binding an independent Scotland to a UK monetary policy over which it had no control.

Mr Bell, a former adviser to Alex Salmond, called the report a “suicide note”; Mr Macwhirter said it was “the last redoubt of crude austerity economics”; and Mr MacAskill suggested the SNP was becoming the “New SNP”, much as Labour became New Labour under Tony Blair.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter: Why Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon are copying each other’s work

However writing in the Sunday Herald, Ms Sturgeon said: “The initial response to the commission’s report has been heartening.

“Those within the independence movement who have expressed a desire for a different approach have done so in a constructive manner - I welcome that and look forward to them being a full part of the debate over the summer.”

She also said previous opponents of independence now saw it as more “credible”, as the report was a “frank recognition of the challenges we face and how we overcome them”.

She said: “After spending two years discussing how we mitigate the economic damage caused by Brexit, it is very refreshing to now be discussing the immense opportunities offered by having the full range of powers to take economic decisions tailored to Scotland’s needs. It is a debate based on hope - not despair.”

She said claims the report advocated austerity were “bogus” and Unionist scare stories.

The document offered “clear and solid foundations” to convert No voters to Yes, she said.

READ MORE: Former Yes Scotland chair: SNP Growth Commission relied on 'Scottish establishment' for report

Mr Canavan said the Commission’s decision to consult business leaders such as the CBI and Institute of Directors but not any trade unions had been a “grave omission”.

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Many share Denis Canavan’s concerns, but the STUC is focused on the content of the report and playing an active part in the national conversation about the progressive policies needed to address Scotland’s deep seated and longstanding economic challenges, whether independent or not.”

Ms Sturgeon also tweeted a link to a Financial Times article by economist Professor John Kay, a member of her standing council on Europe, calling it “another example of the Growth Commission report re-energising the debate about the possibilities of independence”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: 'Growth Commission has prompted No voters to look at the arguments afresh'

Prof Kay’s article said an independent Scotland would inherit a share of the UK’s “unpromising fiscal position and lose the benefit of the subsidy from England” of the Barnett Formula.

He said the report had a “strong pro-business focus,” adding: “Any nationalists who believe that independence would mean freedom from budgetary constraints are indulging a fantasy”.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Nicola Sturgeon clearly wants to gloss over splits among independence supporters ahead of the SNP conference later this week. "But to describe the reaction to the Growth Commission report as ‘heartening’ is bordering on the delusional.

“The SNP have alienated many hardcore separatists, but the bigger problem for Ms Sturgeon is that the people of Scotland have no interest whatsoever in another referendum.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: “It takes a deluded confidence to suggest a report that divided nationalists will manage to unite No voters.

“The First Minister’s relentless defence of this paper on Twitter and in the papers reveals the panic in the SNP leadership. They’re desperately trying to present a positive front to the economic case for independence, which has ultimately disappointed the membership just in time for their conference.

“The loose currency plans and austerity warnings in the Growth Commission and recent poor growth projections will not convince people isolation is a good idea.”

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "Yet again Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to defend her cuts commission.

"The First Minister says she has been heartened by the response - that response has been senior nationalists like former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and policy chief Alex Bell skewering the report for promising a decade of austerity.

"Only Labour now offers the anti-austerity economic programme that the people of Scotland want."

An SNP spokesperson said: "The Tories are rattled and Murdo Fraser is reduced to hurling insulting potshots. 

"Yet, it is clear that the Growth Commission has opened a lively, wide-ranging discussion from all sides of the debate.

"We know that some within the independence movement have expressed a desire for a different approach - their views are welcome and we look forward to key figures and bodies like trade unions and businesses playing a full part in the debate over the summer about the kind of country Scotland can be.”