Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of appearing to do "nothing at all" to deliver independence after Michael Gove ruled out another referendum before the 2024 general election.

The Alba Party leader said Ms Sturgeon’s Government was wasting time "having discussions about discussions", while Westminster was already plotting to "rig the ballot".

The former First Minister said it was "time to force the Scottish issue now" and get on with delivering a referendum rather than "have Michael Gove or Westminster dictating how Scotland is governed".

His intervention, in his weekly video message to Alba Party members, was the latest in a series of attacks he has made on Ms Sturgeon for failing to push home her claim for another referendum since the SNP’s victory in last month’s Holyrood election.

He lashed out at his former protégé and successor after Mr Gove told The Telegraph this week that Boris Johnson will not grant another separation vote before the next general election.

The Cabinet Office Minister, who has been put in charge of Union policy, said he could not envisage any circumstance in which the Prime Minister would agree to a referendum as his focus was on Covid recovery.

It was also alleged this week that the franchise could be extended to Scots living elsewhere in the UK, who are seen as overwhelmingly pro-Union.

Mr Salmond said: "We have two examples in one week of Westminster trying to thwart a referendum, not democratically, but by using chicanery to try rig the ballot by exercising their power.

"The question for Scotland is what are we going to do about it? Because by the look of it, precious little. While Westminster are preparing and laying their plans and ground work to rig the ballot the Scottish Government are doing nothing at all other than discussions about discussions about having a referendum at some point after the pandemic."

Mr Salmond, whose party won only 1.7 per cent of the list vote at the Holyrood election and failed to get any MSPs, said Alba’s autumn conference in Greenock would be a key moment for the Yes campaign.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants a referendum by autumn 2023, after the immediate health crisis has passed but while Scotland is still recovering from the pandemic.

She responded to Mr Gove’s comments this week by accusing him of "sneering, arrogant condescension" and claiming they buttressed support for independence. The SNP last night declined to comment on Mr Salmond’s criticism.

A Scottish Tory spokesman said: "Alex Salmond is a completely discredited figure. Voters delivered a definitive verdict on his brand of politics at the ballot box last month and he should step away from frontline politics with whatever dignity he has left."