Alex Salmond has told Nicola Sturgeon he will unite behind her as leader of a new Yes campaign if she finally fires the “starting gun” on a second independence referendum.
The former first minister urged his successor to seize the “opportunity” to pile the pressure on embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he fights for his future.
Mr Salmond mocked the SNP’s botched handling of Scotland’s census, but said the Holyrood administration’s “quite substantial” policy performance problems were nothing compared to the “incompetence and corruption” witnessed at Westminster.
He was speaking to the BBC as the Scottish Government prepares to reignite the constitutional debate by publishing a series of papers setting out its refreshed vision of an independent Scotland by the end of this month.
Mr Salmond welcomed the arrival of the updated blueprint.
But he questioned why it had taken so long and why the SNP had not made progress on securing a mechanism for holding the vote, including by asking the UK Government to agree to a section 3o order to give Holyrood the powers to make the arrangements.
“Presumably the Scottish Government are worried that Boris Johnson is going to say ‘no’, but I’d have thought you have to kick off that campaign,” he told Gary Robertson on The Sunday Show.
“If you know he is going to say ‘no’, you have to let him say ‘no’, and then do something about it.
“It’s not really a strategy by just not asking the question. You have to ask the question if you are to mobilise a campaign – a political campaign, a legal campaign, a diplomatic campaign – to change his mind.
“I mean, I would have thought that this is a rather good time to put pressure on the Westminster government. I mean the Boris Johnson difficulties are Scotland’s opportunity.”
The Alba Party leader accepted that the Yes campaign would be led by Ms Sturgeon, despite the pair’s bitter fall-out over the handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond.
“Nicola has been elected as the head of the Scottish Government. Inevitably she will lead the independence campaign,” he said.
“Listen, there will be no problem with unity in the independence campaign once the starting gun is fired.”
The Sunday Times reported that Professor John Kay, who served on the Scottish council of economic advisers, was warning in a new book that an independent Scotland would be saddled with £180 billion of debt and be forced to borrow £20 billion annually to plug a financial black hole.
But Mr Salmond claimed the case for going it alone was stronger now than in 2014.
He added: “The SNP have pledged that there is going to be a referendum next year, no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.
“The constitutional secretary (Angus Robertson) said that as much in the Scottish Parliament last week, and now he is finished with the census, no doubt he will be able to turn his mind to it.
“But that is the promise that has been made, and everybody else in the independence movement must take that at their word – that they a plan, a strategy, to deliver that independence referendum next year.”