Alex Neil has called for a new SNP leader to be unveiled next month before Holyrood returns after the summer recess as he called for John Swinney to resign.

The former SNP health secretary said Mr Swinney's position was not tenable because of the devastating election result on Thursday and also because of his closeness to Nicola Sturgeon.

Her eight and half year tenure as SNP leader and First Minister is now being blamed by some as a reason for the humiliating defeat.

He warned if Mr Swinney continued as leader the party would suffer "another rout" at the Scottish Parliament election in May 2026.

READ MORE: Is John Swinney's leadership tenable after the SNP rout?

The SNP experienced a huge blow at the general election last Thursday, losing 39 seats, down from 48 the party won in 2019, which left it with just nine MPs.

It lost all the seats it held in Glasgow and Edinburgh with a resurgent Labour party ousting SNP MPs right across the central belt to take 37 seats - up from one in 2019.

(Image: Gordon Terris) Former health secretary Alex Neil.  Photo: Gordon Terris.

Prominent casualties of the night to Labour included Joanna Cherry in Edinburgh South West, Tommy Sheppard in Edinburgh East and Alison Thewliss, the former Glasgow Central MP, who was standing as the party's candidate in Glasgow North following boundary changes.

The devastating election blow has triggered recriminations among senior figures in the party about who is responsible for the losses.

READ MORE: SNP fury mounts with Sturgeon and Swinney in angry blame game

Ms Cherry has pointed the finger at Ms Sturgeon and former Westminster leader Ian Blackford, while Ms Sturgeon blamed Mr Swinney's campaign. In turn Mr Blackford dismissed Ms Cherry as "bitter" - an accusation she rejected.

Further recriminations were made by Toni Giugliano, the SNP’s defeated candidate in Falkirk, who last week partly blamed Mr Swinney’s support for ex-health secretary Michael Matheson for his election defeat.

Mr Giugliano said Mr Matheson should not have been protected by the leadership after he wrongly claimed £11,000 iPad expenses while on holiday in Morocco on the public purse.

Speaking to The Herald, Mr Neil said Mr Swinney would have to go and the party should hold a leadership contest with a view to his successor being in place at the end of August.

READ MORE: After the tears, what now for the SNP and independence?

He accused the party of not having a clear message on the constitution and of pursuing policies on gender self-identification, which polling suggested was not been popular with voters, and for being responsible for a poor record on public service delivery while in government.

"The leadership of the SNP has totally lost touch with both the grassroots of the party and the people," he said.

"The campaign we ran was complete rubbish. There was a total lack of a clear message coming across - one minute talking about independence, the next about devo max.

"There was nothing exciting to say about policy, just slogans. There was total lack of preparation for a campaign, despite knowing for some time there was going to be a general election this year.

"And of course we are paying a heavy price for the Sturgeon mistakes, for the mistakes by her, by Humza Yousaf and John Swinney on gender, and the mess they have allowed the NHS and education to get into."

Mr Neil said the first thing needed to turn around the party's fortunes was "fresh leadership" with people taking over who are "not associated with the Sturgeon-Swinney years of failure".

He added: "The only two people who we have there are Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn. My view is that Swinney should hand over to that new generation.

"John has led the party into three national elections - two when he was leader, before the Scottish Parliament election [in 2003], and before the European election [in 2004] - and now this one and in all three the party has gone substantially backwards.

"His natural skills are not in leading successful campaigns. This has been a disaster and if they don't recognise it as such and take the necessary action then we will face another disaster in two years.

"He is not a fresh leader. He is associated with the Sturgeon years and the mistakes Sturgeon made. He was her chief cheerleader and implemented a lot of the daft policies that she tried to push through the parliament and of the way the party and the government was run.

"John is seen as part of the Sturgeon problem - not the answer to it."

He continued: "I think the quicker [the leadership] hand over to a new generation of leaders the better. Quite frankly the current leadership is tarnished by the Sturgeon years.

"I think the party conference is still scheduled for the end of August that would be the ideal time to do so and have a quick leadership election this summer. There will only be 20 months to the election - they have no time to spare.

"Kate Forbes and Stephen Flynn are the party's leading lights. They would be a great joint ticket."

Asked if under them he thought the SNP could remain in power after May 2026, he said: "The first thing is to stop another rout. When you get to the Holyrood election not a large number of seats have to change hands between the pro and anti independence parties for us to be forced out of government."

He said if there was anti independence majority the first thing the Pro-UK parties would do would be to "oust the SNP."

He said new policies were needed and the party needed to "re-establish competence" in government and to "rewrite" its independence strategy which he said had no "credibility".

He called for a Cabinet refresh and reforms to the health service - including an emergency land tax on large estates to raise funds for public services - and improvements to education.

Mr Neil is among prominent figures in the SNP to speak out in the wake of his party's polling day defeat.

Speaking on Sunday, Ms Cherry said Ms Sturgeon owes SNP MPs who lost their seat an apology after voters became “disillusioned” by the party’s independence strategy.

The high profile Ms Cherry, who has been among the loudest internal critics of her party’s former leadership, told Sky New’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillip’s programme that it had become “difficult to persuade” people to vote for the SNP.

She said the party had failed to convince its core independence support of the way forward in the cause, while accusing the SNP-run Scottish Government of losing its “competence and integrity”.

Speaking on the programme, she said: “It was difficult to persuade people to vote SNP in this election.

“Many, many former constituents said to me on the doorstep ‘I would vote for you Joanna but I just can’t vote SNP this time’.

“Our core support - the people who believe passionately in the cause of Scottish independence… was very disillusioned at the party’s failure to progress the cause of independence and failure to take advantage of some of the opportunities that were presented to us during the Brexit saga and also during the Boris Johnson premiership.

“And on the other hand there were a lot of people who voted for us in the past in Scotland who didn’t necessarily support independence but saw us as a strong and competent government at Holyrood, and also a party that governed with integrity."

She added: "I am afraid to say and ashamed for my party, that both our reputation of governing competently and for integrity has taken a severe battering in the last couple of years.”

And while she said the defeat could not be solely blamed on Ms Sturgeon, she was asked whether the former first minister owed the party an “apology”.

She replied: “I think she does. I don’t think you can ever blame a setback like this on one person, however, Nicola Sturgeon was a very strong leader who brooked no debate and no dissent, as I know to my considerable cost.”

Meanwhile, Mr Blackford gave rather lukewarm support to Mr Swinney continuing as leader saying there “isn’t really anybody else” who could take on the job.

The former SNP MP told the Sunday Mail the election results showed the electorate had delivered a “very clear message”, adding: “They’re p****d off.”

He said: “You can’t sugar coat any of this. It’s up to John what the party does but the electorate have delivered a very clear message to us – primarily they’re p****d off.

“I don’t think anyone is pointing the finger at John and saying he has to go,” he said.

“He’s inherited this and he has to own it in terms of fixing it. It’s not long until 2026.

“You’ve got some time and it can be turned around but you need to demonstrate that you can be trusted.”

Asked by the publication if Mr Swinney would be able to turn the party’s fortunes around, he said: “Time will tell but there isn’t really anybody else, so he’s the man for it.”

Speaking on Friday, Mr Swinney said he took full responsibility for the campaign and was “committed” to healing the relationship between the SNP and the electorate as he admitted his party had "failed to convince" the people of Scotland on independence.

“The Scottish National Party needs to be healed and it needs to heal its relationship with the people of Scotland, and I am absolutely committed to doing that,” he said.

The SNP was approached for comment.