Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Mr Neil warned that the SNP must do more than “shout” about independence.
My concern at the moment is that there is no sign of that hard work and original thinking being done
Alex Neil, former SNP MSP
He suggested the party pursue an “alternative strategy” towards independence if the UK Government will not grant powers for another referendum, and argued they could achieve a “mandate for independence” by winning a majority of votes and seats at the next general election.
HIs comments came as First Minister and SNP leader Ms Sturgeon conceded she does not know if the arrival of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus in the UK will delay plans to hold a second vote on independence.
She has already made clear her intention to hold another referendum before the end of 2023 – assuming the pandemic has eased enough to make this safe.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Ms Sturgeon stressed: “For as long as necessary, steering and leading Scotland through this pandemic is my focus and my priority.
“We’re in a global pandemic, it is still causing us serious challenges. I take my duties as First Minister very seriously; my primary duty right now is to lead the country though the pandemic and hopefully soon out of the other end of it.”
But on the constitutional issue Mr Neil insisted there is “no sign of that hard work and original thinking being done” within the party.
He said: “It’s not enough just to shout ‘Independence, independence, independence’; we’ve got to put flesh on the bones of the argument.
“That means spelling out in detail the answers to questions on currency, economic policy, the oil and gas industry, and our trading relationships.
“It’s not just a case of updating the White Paper (from the 2014 referendum). It needs to be completely rewritten.
“My concern at the moment is that there is no sign of that hard work and original thinking being done, despite the fact we need to do that to have any chance of success next time round.”
Meanwhile, a former deputy leader of the SNP criticised the party for having said “nothing of substance” on Scottish independence during its annual conference.
After a speech by Deputy First Minister John Swinney declaring that Scots must “stand up and be counted” to protect devolution from a corrupt Westminster Government, Jim Sillars said: “John could not set the political heather on fire with a can of petrol and a lighted torch.”
Addressing the SNP conference on Saturday, Mr Swinney insisted “the only way to keep the gains of devolution is by becoming independent”, and suggested the Conservatives have “lost all moral authority to hold the highest offices in the land”.
All of us who care so deeply about the Scottish Parliament and its role in Scottish public life need to stand up and be counted before it is too late
Deputy First Minister John Swinney
Accusing the Tories of having “contempt for Scotland’s democratic Parliament”, he suggested decisions made at Holyrood “can be routinely undermined at a whim by the Tories”.
In a virtual speech to the conference, Mr Swinney said: “All of us who care so deeply about the Scottish Parliament and its role in Scottish public life need to stand up and be counted before it is too late.
“We are now seeing a concerted attack on our Parliament, from the very people who fought tooth and nail against it being established in the first place.
“In a grotesque irony, the Tories are using something that the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly against – Brexit – to undermine something they voted overwhelmingly for – the Scottish Parliament.
“Through the Internal Market Act, the Tories have given themselves unfettered power to decide the rules of the internal market – and to completely ignore the devolution settlement if they want to.”