SNP members were “bounced” into supporting a second Brexit referendum after Nicola Sturgeon announced the policy on TV without consulting her party, a former minister has said.

Alex Neil insisted there is “a lot of unhappiness” over the decision to back a so-called People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal without asking MPs and MSPs.

He said: “In a democratic party you have the discussion first and then reach a decision; that did not happen in this case.”

Mr Neil, SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, also said some within the party had told him they didn’t know what they were voting for when they backed a second EU referendum at Holyrood on Wednesday.

The former health secretary told The National: “It should have been put on the agenda well ahead of the SNP conference but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

“I’ve had calls from SNP MSPs who voted for the amendment [on Wednesday], not realising what they were voting for and now regret doing so. I think it’s a lesson for the future in terms of party democracy.

“If the choice is between loyalty to Brussels or loyalty to independence. Independence must come first.

“The SNP tends to be highly disciplined organisation and it is very clear on this issue there has been a public spat which is highly unusual in the SNP and that is because of the way the decision was reached and the decision itself.”

He said there were a growing number of SNP politicians who were not happy about backing a People’s Vote.

It came as SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson spoke out about his concerns after he broke the party whip on Wednesday to vote against supporting a second referendum.

Senior Nationalist MPs Pete Wishart and Angus MacNeil have already raised concerns.

Mr Gibson said: “Although I voted to remain, in my view a referendum should be binding for a generation unless there is a material change in circumstances.”

He said a People’s Vote risked setting a precedent which could threaten any future independence vote.

Earlier this year, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill accused Ms Sturgeon of presiding over a “fundamentally undemocratic” SNP.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union, said: "These comments from senior SNP figures confirm without doubt that independence will always be the one and only priority for the SNP.

"They deserve credit for being honest with voters, whereas Nicola Sturgeon is only interested in using Brexit in a desperate attempt to boost support for independence.

"Whatever your views on Brexit, independence is not the answer. As the majority of people in Scotland recognise, we are better off as part of the UK."

An SNP spokesman said: “We have made it clear that we would push strongly for any second EU referendum to have safeguards to ensure Scotland’s voice is protected in the event of Scotland voting remain again while the UK as a whole voted to leave. This position was agreed by SNP conference.

“Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in 2016 – by far the most decisive vote of any of the UK nations – has been completely ignored, which underlines how Westminster completely fails to represent or protect Scotland’s vital national interests.”