FORMER Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been criticised after suggesting Scoland’s top law officer should be biased in favour of an independence referendum.

The East Lothian MP said SNP ministers should have appointed a Lord Advocate who was "at least moderately sympathetic to their cause”.

As head of Scotland’s prosecution service, as well as the Government’s most senior legal adviser, the Lord Advocate, currently James Wolffe QC, is supposed to act independently. 

The Scottisih LibDems said the Lord Advocate shoould not be a "political puppet" and accused Mr MacAskill of undermining thhe principle of independent advice to government.

Mr MacAskill made the comment just days after the SNP accused Boris Johnson of trying to politicise the civil service after the ousting of cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the forced departure of the UK’s most senior civil servant showed a “reckless approach to governance”.

Writing in the Scotsman today, Mr MacAskill complained that the Scottish Government had not gone to court to establish whether Holyrood could unilaterally stage Indyref2.

Under the Scotland Act, matters relating the Union are reserved to Westminster, but Holyrood’s ability to hold its own referendum has never been tested in court.

For the 2014 referendum, the UK and Scottish Governments agreed a legal process in which Holyrood was given temporary powers to hold the vote under a so-called Section 30 order.

In December, after the SNP won 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the general election, Nicola Sturgeon formally requested a similar transfer of power to stage Indyref2.

However the Prime Minister refused, saying the No result of 2014 should last a generation.

In the absence of a Section 30 order, senior SNP figures including MP Angus MacNeil have suggested a Plan B in which any SNP election win could trigger independence.

Yes campaigner Martin Keatings has also asked Scotland’s highest court to rule on whether Holyrood could hold a referendum under its existing powers without Westminster consent.

Writing in the Scotsman, Mr MacAskill said it was now “time for a Plan B”, and that if Westminster blocked Indyref2, and election could “be treated as the deliberative vote”.

He added: “It’s surprising to say the least that the SNP leadership hasn’t sought to test the legal waters on holding their own. 

“Many including Joanna Cherry MP have been advocating that and a court challenge is being mounted by frustrated ‘Yessers’. 

“There’s good reason to believe that it’s as possible now as it was for Strathclyde [Regional Council] to consult on fluoridisation decades ago.

"The reason assumed by many is that the current Lord Advocate doesn’t believe it’s arguable though other senior legal figures disagree. 

“Given a referendum was a core part of the SNP manifesto in 2016 you’d have thought they’d have ensured they appointed a law officer who was at least moderately sympathetic to their cause."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “A former Justice Secretary should know that the job of the Lord Advocate is to offer accurate and dispassionate legal advice, not act as a political puppet, telling SNP parliamentarians what they want to hear.

“The Scottish Government should not be spending a single penny or a fleeting moment focused on independence when we are in the middle of a global pandemic.

“Even the First Minister has acknowledged that now is not the time. Kenny MacAskill should be focused on helping his constituents in a time of need, not undermining the work of the Lord Advocate.”

In 2011, while Alex Salmond’s Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill notoriously suggested axing £500,000 of Scottish Government funding to the UK Supreme Court because he didn’t like its decisions. 

He said: “I am not going to pay for ambulance-chasing courts.

“I am not paying money that would come out of the police budget, or prison budget or community payback budget because they are routinely taking cases that we as a country do not think should be going there. He who pays the piper, as they say, calls the tune.”

The former Solicitor General Lord McCluskey said Mr MacAskill ought to be "ashamed" of his comments and called his funding threat "unsuitable for a man holding his office".

Mr Salmond ultimately over-ruled Mr MacAskill on the issue.