NICOLA Sturgeon’s independence strategy has “moved from gung-ho to go-slow”, a former SNP minister and key Alex Salmond ally has warned.

Kenny MacAskill said the First Minister’s caution over calling a second referendum was “perplexing given the opportunity now existing”.

The former Justice Secretary said: “Seeking another referendum might focus minds and stimulate debate.

“But the SNP needs indyref2 as well as there being an historic opportunity from Britain’s travails.

“The rank and file are growing restless, yet the party has been suffering from torpor.

“Whilst the movement’s a broad church, keeping as many within the faith is important.”

It came as former First Minister Alex Salmond called on Ms Sturgeon to "concentrate on making history by taking Scotland to independence".

Mr MacAskill made the latest comments in a column for Holyrood magazine.

He said Ms Sturgeon’s eagerness to call a second referendum in 2017 was premature and had “calamitous consequences”, but argued the time was now right to push for another vote.

He wrote: “The SNP is at its best and most effective when the membership is engaged, and that requires to be in political effort not just in internal debate.

“Much of what was emanating from SNP HQ before seemed simply a regurgitation of the leader’s message from on high, not the mobilisation of a mass membership party from below.

“However, the Scottish Government has had a languid air, too.

“As was said to me rather acidly by a very senior nationalist, Nicola Sturgeon is hardly going to be able to fight as her predecessor had on ‘team, record and vision’.”

He added: "Why Sturgeon is holding back from approaching Theresa May is also baffling.

“The request for a Section 30 order will be rebuffed so a vote won’t be happening any time soon anyway.

“But it gets the party machine moving again and makes opposition to it look fraudulent when another EU vote is being openly sought.

“Moreover, it allows for an alternative mandate of a majority of MPs to be considered if the rejection is blanket or unconditional.”

Mr MacAskill was Justice Secretary between 2007 and 2014 under then First Minister Alex Salmond.

Since then he has emerged as an outspoken critic of Ms Sturgeon and the SNP under her husband, the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell.

Scottish Tory chief whip Maurice Golden said: “It’s clear that the latest twist in the SNP’s civil war will now focus on Sturgeon’s independence strategy.

“The Scottish people deserve a government that focuses on their priorities not endless in-fighting and back-stabbing.

“Nicola Sturgeon should be working to improve Scotland’s economy and public services, not her next call for another divisive independence referendum.”