Alex Salmond has said the SNP are showing a “lack of urgency” over Scottish independence.
The Alba Party leader said they were going to tackle the “constitutional debate” following the suspension of the election campaign in the wake of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
Salmond has made one of his first overt broadsides against his former party and more specifically his former deputy.
Nicola Sturgeon has previously said she hopes another referendum on independence would take place in the first half of the parliamentary term – which would be by the end of November 2023 – however she told journalists last week that would not be the case if the country was still in the grip of a pandemic.
In a statement released on Monday, Salmond said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s comments last week about an independence referendum in 2023 or later have caused total consternation in the national movement.
“It seems to be that Scotland will not be free until after 2023, more seriously it seems to indicate a lack of urgency on bringing the independence question to a decision.”
The Alba Party, as with the SNP, consider Scottish independence as something that would aid the country in its recovery from the coronavirus, but Salmond has said it is a “priority” for his party.
“The reality is that Scottish independence is not an alternative to economic recovery from Covid, it is an essential part of building a new, different and better society,” he said.
“For Alba, independence is the priority, which is why we are putting it front and centre in the election campaign.
“In the power balance that will emerge post-election between Scotland and Westminster it is fundamentally true that Boris Johnson will find it substantially more difficult taking on a parliament with an independence supermajority representing a country than he will in framing the debate as party against party, Prime Minister against First Minister.”
A spokeswoman for the SNP said Salmond’s comments were “simply not a credible contribution to the independence debate”.
She added: “Only an SNP government can deliver an independence referendum, to give people a choice on the country’s future once the Covid crisis has passed – and as the First Minister has made clear, there is no shortcut to winning independence which doesn’t involve a clear majority voting for it in a democratic, accepted, legitimate process.
“The only safe way to ensure that Nicola Sturgeon is re-elected to lead an SNP government which can deliver independence is to give both votes to the SNP.
“Anything else is a gamble which risks putting Scotland’s future in Boris Johnson’s hands.”
Sturgeon told the Guardian on Monday she believes that Johnson would relent in his opposition to another referendum if the SNP win a majority on May 6.
She said: “If people in Scotland vote for a party saying, ‘when the time is right, there should be an independence referendum’, you cannot stand in the way of that – and I don’t think that is what will happen.”
Responding to Sturgeon’s comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The first thing to say is that ministers and officials across all UK Government departments are focused on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think that’s what the public wants to see, Scottish people have been clear they want to see the UK Government and devolved administrations working together to defeat this pandemic.
“So, calling for a referendum in this way in the middle of the pandemic is not right.”