NICOLA Sturgeon is hopelessly “ill-prepared” for an independence referendum and shouldn’t even try to have one next year, a former deputy leader of the SNP has said.

Jim Sillars said “delusion” dominated the SNP-Green administration, and its shortcomings had left the Yes movement lacking the material it needed for victory.

He said the “mediocrity” and “crass incompetence” of the Scottish Government meant it was simply incapable of producing a winning prospectus for leaving the UK.

"There will be an Indyref2, but in 2023? I hope not," he said.

Mr Sillars, who was deputy SNP leader to Alex Salmond in the early 1980s, makes his comments in article for the Scotland’s Future series in today’s Herald.

His intervention comes at the end of a week in which the SNP came under attack for wrongly claiming the UK would pay Scottish state pensions after a Yes vote, only to later accept the Scottish Government would do it after a negotiation over assets and liabilities.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to have Indyref2 by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, but Boris Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the power it needs to hold it.

Despite the block, the First Minister has tasked officials with writing a new White Paper on independence and preparing a potentially doomed Referendum Bill.

Mr Sillars mocked the idea that the Scottish Government was up to the job, citing a lisst of its recent failues over ScotWind, CalMac, Prestiwck Airport and school standards.

“Are we to believe this government, a combination of ministerial and civil service mediocrity, which has brought us to a condition of stasis, can produce a White Paper that projects a dynamic, innovative, ambitious, society capable of creating an all-embracing prosperity we have never experienced?  

“Is this lot, who think £700m is a good dividend from wind farm development, who cannot deliver two ferries, don’t know what to do with an airport, and has failed to deliver a good education to every child, be the great engine of change that will sweep us to independence?  I doubt it.”

He said those in the Yes movement who would rather ignore these problems - the ‘Wheesht for Indy’ crowed - ought to be ashamed.

Meanwhile, their Unionist opponents were working on how to stop independence. 

“In the six wasted years, filled with indyref2 promises, they have been thinking down south about better ways to save the Union than repetition of Project Fear,” he said. 

Mr Sillars said he expected the UK Government would ultimately offer voters a choice between independence and greater devolution, or Devo Max, not simply the status quo.

He said: “How well prepared is the SNP if they get a message one day that, 'Yes, you can have a referendum on terms – independence v devo max?'

“It is wakey-wakey time. Devo max is seductive: no border, same currency, state pension secure, travel freely, and a stack of extra powers with only monetary policy, defence and foreign affairs staying in London. 

“Sovereignty, real independence, has to win against devo max. 

“That requires thinking, research, papers, discussion, debate – now.   

“Sovereignty is far superior, but we shall need to prove it.”

Commenting an SNP spokesperson said: “Jim Sillars has called for independence to be ‘deprioritised’ – while the SNP Government is focussed on winning independence by delivering the referendum for which there is a cast-iron democratic mandate.”