THE former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has been criticised after complaining the head of Scotland’s prosecution service is not openly backing an independence referendum.

The East Lothian MP, who defected from the SNP to Alex Salmond’s Alba party last year, said the Lord Advocate was an “apparent apostate”.

Mr MacAskill said Dorothy Bain QC looked “hapless” and “cynical" with her submission to the UK Supreme Court on a second referendum, when she should be enthusiastically making the case for Holyrood holding it.

Opposition parties accused Mr MacAskill of disrespecting the Lord Advocate’s neutrality when advising the Scottish Government on legal matters.

Just last year, in a Commons debate he led on the role of the Lord Advocate, Mr MacAskill said most previous holders of the office had “acted with the impartiality expected”, despite being both members of the Government and the head of prosecutions at the Crown Office.

He said: “The impartiality of the Crown is an imperative in a democracy. It must be seen to act in the public interest, not that of the Government or their friends or allies.” 

He also said Ms Bain had “an illustrious record of service and I wish her well”.

However, despite saying the Lord Advocate should act impartially as a prosecutor, he has now attacked Ms Bain for not being political enough in the Supreme Court case.

In June, Nicola Sturgeon revealed she had asked Ms Bain to use her power as Lord Advocate to ask the Court whether Holyrood could hold Indyref2 under its existing powers.

Ms Bain agreed to put the matter to the Court for a definitive ruling on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon said that if the Court ruled Holyrood could go ahead, she would hold Indyref2 on October 19 next year.

However, if the Court said the issue was reserved to Westminster and so outside Holyrood’s legislative competence, the First Minister said she would fight the next general election as a “de facto referendum” on the “single question” of independence.

Last month, Ms Bain published her submission to the Court asking for a ruling.

Rather than arguing forcefully that Holyrood could stage Indyref2 without permission from Westminster, it set out both sides of the argument in a largely neutral fashion.

It said Holyrood might be able to stage a vote if its legal effect was “nil”.

READ MORE: UK Supreme Court told legal effect of Indyref2 Bill would be 'nil'

It also confirmed that Ms Bain had refused to sign off the Scottish Government’s draft Indyref2 Bil as she was not convinced it would be legally competent.

The day after the submission was published, the SNP announced it was intervening in the case, arguing that it believed Holyrood definitely did have the power to hold Indyref2.

However its submission also argued an advisory referendum would not “have any effect on the Union” directly, as even after a Yes vote Westminster would still have to pass its own legislation to break up the UK.

Mr MacAskill said the situation was a “pure farce”, with the Lord Advocate going through the motions and the SNP wasting its members’ money to make up for it.

The Scottish Government has already spent around £30,000 on external counselt preparing its case to the Supreme Court. 

READ MORE: SNP set out case for Supreme Court indyref2 legal battle

Writing in the Scotsman, he said the Lord Advocate’s case had “as much chance of success as I have of getting an American Green Card”.

He said: “The fact she referred it to the court isn’t a cunning wheeze. Instead, it strongly suggests she has no faith in what the government is doing. 

“She’s simply used an expedited procedure to get it before the court as she isn’t willing to sign off the legislation as is required.

“The Lord Advocate doesn’t even appear to believe in the core policy of the government in which she serves. You’d have thought in the real world you’d avoid appointing any apparent apostate to such a critical position.

“Her submissions to the Supreme Court have the ring of the legal cop-out ‘my client advises me’ – ie, I’m only saying what they tell me and I don’t believe a word of it myself.

“It’s so manifest that the SNP are now seeking to enter into the case which has been brought by the government they control. Why? 

“Because the person representing them doesn’t seem to believe in the policy she’s being asked to promote on their behalf. What a waste of valuable party funds.”

HeraldScotland:

Tory MSP Donald Cameron, himself an advocate, said: “The Lord Advocate is required to be a politically neutral legal adviser to the Scottish Government. 

“Kenny MacAskill’s outburst shows how little respect and understanding he has for the role.

“The fact the Lord Advocate has grave doubts about the legal grounds of the SNP’s latest Indyref bid has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with basic legal reality.

“The nationalists are simply ignoring this to pursue their independence obsession above everything else.

“The vast majority of people in Scotland simply see this relentless pursuit of independence for what it is – a divisive distraction from Scotland’s real priorities.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government has spent £30,000 on Indyref2 court case

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Apostasy is usually a charge levelled against religious heretics. Perhaps Kenny Macaskill is unwittingly revealing how much of the nationalist argument is blind faith.

"Given the overwhelming weight of legal opinion seems to be that the SNP's day in court is a fool's errand, it is no surprise that the Lord Advocate seems a bit sceptical of the case she is being asked to make.

"To turn the Lord Advocate's role into that of an unquestioning enthusiast for every dubious ministerial scheme should be a step too far even for the nationalists."