It is “hard to see” Nicola Sturgeon leading the SNP at the next Holyrood election, her Liberal Democrat rival has said.
Alex Cole-Hamilton also predicted that support for the First Minister’s party could “crumble” if she quits.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader described Sturgeon as looking “knackered” after dealing with the coronavirus crisis for the last 18 months and also having to lead a “viper’s nest” of a party.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross recently bet the First Minister £50 that she will not be in charge of the SNP for the 2026 Holyrood election.
Cole-Hamilton said if that happens “the game changes entirely”.
Sturgeon has been First Minister since 2014, and if she is still in charge of the country by the next election she will have had a longer term in office than Margaret Thatcher.
She has “this solemn managerialism about her which I think people quite like”, Cole-Hamilton said.
“But there is nobody else like that in her party and I think that edifice of power and support will crumble when she goes.”
Speaking to journalists as the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference got under way, he said: “It is hard to see how she leads the SNP into the next election.
“I say that because she has an internecine civil war within her party which might be dormant just now but I think is about to flare up again on a number of issues.
“She has a fundamentalist and a gradualist wing of her party that will come to blows then they realise there isn’t going to be an independence referendum in 2023.
“Then there will be pressure for her maybe to go for a wildcat referendum and all these things.”
Cole-Hamilton said he is “not going to be placing any bets like Douglas Ross did with her”.
But he added: “She has looked knackered for a long time, she has looked exhausted. I can understand that – she has put in a lot of hours of work in terms of the pandemic, I wouldn’t take that away from her.
“You’ve got to think that part of her wouldn’t much rather have a nice academic job in America or something, rather than lead that viper’s nest of a party that she does.”
He added: “I think there are many staging posts on the road where things can change here, and I think my party needs to be ready for success.
“We’re finding on the doorstep a warmth and a readiness to believe in us again, to look to us again, and I am ready to capitalise on that.”