A FORMER justice secretary has called for the Scotland Act to be amended to split the powers of the lord advocate – claiming “the situation is now critical” after a fraud probe was opened into the SNP’s finances.

Kenny MacAskill, who was SNP justice secretary from 2007 to 2014 under Alex Salmond, has also demanded “interim steps” are taken by the Scottish Government to restore public confidence in the dual role of the lord advocate.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain is both the Scottish Government’s top legal adviser and head of the prosecution service.

READ MORE: 'Fraud' probe launched into SNP fundraising for Indyref2

Nicola Sturgeon has committed to investigate whether the dual lord advocate role could be separated.

Mr MacAskill, who now represents Alba at Westminster, pointed to a police investigation into SNP indyref donations.

Mr MacAskill, speaking in a Commons debate on the lord advocate role, said the set-up is “entirely unsuited to a modern democracy” as he hit out at his former party’s leadership.

He said: "Under Alex Salmond's administration a convention was invoked that the lord advocate only appeared at Cabinet when legal advice was to be given and didn’t participate in wider political debate. But the anachronism still lingered.

"Under Nicola Sturgeon’s administration it has been brutally exposed by both Scottish Government and Crown Office actions, and with the lord advocate straddling both. Change is now needed and fast."

Mr MacAskill added: “The situation is now critical as a police investigation has opened into the SNPs finances. The party leader is First Minister – her husband is chief executive.

“A situation that would be intolerable in any public body or private company or even in a bowling or social club in any Scottish town – the idea that the chief steward could be the spouse of the treasurer would draw derision and rejection but not so in Scotland's governing party.”

Police Scotland has launched a formal investigation into donations handed to the SNP earmarked for a future referendum campaign.

The SNP has raised more than £660,000 since 2017 specifically to fight an Indyref2 campaign, but has spent some of the money on other things in the absence of another independence vote.

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The party has now pledged to spend an “equivalent" sum on a second referendum, but refused to formally identify this money in its annual accounts for 2020.

Mr MacAskill asked that given the police investigation and resignation of three members of the SNP’s finance and audit committee and elected treasurer, “can the Scottish public be assured that the investigation will have access to all information and that any decision to prosecute or not will be made on legal criteria and in the interests of justice”.

He added: “Protocols have failed, been breached or even abused.

“The twin roles of the lord advocate in prosecution and in advising government are an historical anachronism but entirely unsuited to a modern democracy.”

READ MORE: Splitting lord advocate role would 'reassure public' over SNP fraud probe

The former SNP MSP said he has been “appalled” by the situation.

He said: “I call upon the minister to engage with the Scottish Government as a matter of urgency so that changes can be made to the 1998 (Scotland) Act.”

Mr MacAskill said the overhaul must lead to “a complete separation of powers between the head of prosecution service and the senior government legal advisor”, warning that “every modern democracy does and so must Scotland”.

He added: “The failures have been too many and the risks too great.

“For justice has not only to be done but must be seen to be done.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry, claimed that "all that's really needed" is for MPs to give the Scottish Parliament the power to alter the role of the lord advocate by amending the Scotland Act.

Ms Cherry said Westminster could "pass a bill amending the Scotland Act so the role of the lord advocate could be revisited by the Scottish Parliament".

She added that "the First Minister of Scotland has recognised that there's a case for reform".

But Scotland Office Minister, David Duguid, told MPs that the UK Government wants to see the Scottish Government "take the lead" and see the SNP's plan first.

He said: "Any formal separation of the responsibility would require legislation.

"Whilst the UK Government has the power to bring forward legislation to make this change, in practice we would want to ensure the Scottish Government has first put their proposals to the Scottish Parliament for scrutiny.

"Only once these proposals were agreed in principle in the Scottish Parliament, would we expect the Scottish Government to make a formal representation to the Secretary of State for Scotland, as custodian of the devolution settlement - and then the UK Government would consider the next steps."