Saturday, September 25News That Matters

Salmond becomes leader of new pro-independence party ahead of Scottish elections

Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond has re-entered frontline politics to become the leader of the new pro-independence Alba Party.

The party was registered with the Electoral Commission in January by retired TV producer Laurie Flynn and has now been formally launched by Mr Salmond.

Alba Party will stand candidates – including Mr Salmond himself – in the Scottish parliament elections on 6 May.

The 66-year-old on Friday set out the party’s aim of working towards a “successful, socially just, environmentally responsible, independent country”.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement with an update about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Scottish parliament, Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/Pool
Image: The Alba Party are hoping to have MSPs elected to Holyrood in May

The dramatic development comes after Mr Salmond’s recent battles with the Scottish government, led by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, over its handling of harassment allegations against him.

“Today I’m announcing the public launch of a new political force, the Alba Party,” Mr Salmond said in a statement.

“Alba will contest the upcoming Scottish elections as a list-only party, seeking to build a super-majority for independence in the Scottish parliament.

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“Over the next six weeks we will promote new ideas about taking Scotland forward – giving primacy to economic recovery from the pandemic and the achievement of independence for our country.

“We expect to field a minimum of four candidates in each regional list and we’re hoping to elect Alba MSPs from every area of Scotland.”

Mr Salmond added the Alba Party were “making an entirely positive statement and also asking people to come forward and give us support”.

He hopes to build his “supermajority” by taking advantage of the way members of the Scottish Parliament are selected through the Additional Member System, in which each person has two votes.

Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies for Holyrood elections and each constituency elects one MSP via the first past the post system.

However, voters get another vote with which to elect 56 additional MSPs, with Scotland divided into eight regions.

Each region elects seven regional MSPs, with people using this extra vote to support a party rather than an individual.

The parties are then allocated a number of MSPs based on their proportion of the vote, with regional MSPs selected from lists compiled by parties.

It is by this means – by only fielding candidates for the extra regional seats – that Mr Salmond believes his party will avoid taking votes from the SNP and get more MSPs elected who support independence – his so-called “super-majority”.

Among the Alba Party’s candidates are Chris McEleny, a former SNP councillor in Inverclyde, while Mr Salmond has been touted to contest the North East regional constituency.

“The Alba Party is a list party, we are standing only in the list,” he explained.

“We are not challenging the SNP in the constituencies. Indeed we are saying vote SNP or for an independence party on the constituency section.

“We are giving that support. Our campaign that we have launched is going to be entirely positive.”

Alex Salmond has made a written submission against Nicola Sturgeon
Image: Mr Salmond and his successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in 2015

SNP leader Ms Sturgeon has vowed, if she wins a majority at the Scottish parliament elections, she will hold a new independence referendum, regardless of whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson consents to the move.

And Mr Salmond suggested his introduction of a new party would not harm the push for Scottish independence.

“We think building that substantial majority in the Scottish parliament is the key to unlock that question and it’s the key to the way forward,” he said.

“If Alba helps – and it is helping because we are not standing on the constituency ballot, we expect that to be dominated by the SNP – but if Alba can help by contributing independence-supporting MSPs and their expertise they’re contributing to the new platform that we’re going to have to build on independence.”

He added that “different strands of independence thinking” at Holyrood would be a “great strength” in possible future negotiations with Westminster over a fresh referendum.

“I think the position of Boris Johnson will be fundamentally weaker if he has to say no to an entire parliament representing an entire nation as opposed to being able to cast it as just something which is being promoted by the SNP,” Mr Salmond said.

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Responding to Mr Salmond’s launch of the Alba Party, an SNP spokesperson said: “This is perhaps the most predictable development in Scottish politics for quite some time.

“At this time of crisis, the interests of the country must come first and should not be obscured by the self interest of someone who shows no sign whatsoever of reflecting on serious concerns about his own conduct – concerns which, to put it mildly, raise real questions about the appropriateness of a return to public office.”

Earlier this week, Mr Salmond revealed he was preparing more legal action over the conduct of the Scottish government’s top civil servant, Leslie Evans.

It follows the publication of a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment claims against him.

However, a separate investigation by James Hamilton, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, this week found First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had not breached the ministerial code over her handling of the allegations.

Mr Salmond has previously been successful in a legal challenge of the Scottish government’s unlawful investigation into complaints against him, which led to him being awarded more than £500,000.

He was acquitted of all 13 criminal charges brought against him – including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape – in March 2020 following a High Court trial.

Mr Salmond served as Scotland’s first minister between 2007 and 2014, when he stood down following defeat in that year’s independence referendum.

He has previously been an MSP for Banff and Buchan, Gordon, and Aberdeenshire East in his spells in the Scottish Parliament.

And he was also an MP at Westminster in two separate spells.

Mr Salmond was succeeded by Ms Sturgeon, his former deputy, as first minister and SNP leader in 2014.

Analysis: Alba’s entry could harm the Scottish Greens and pro-union parties

By Joe Pike, political correspondent

Scots have two votes at the Holyrood elections.

One for their constituency, and a second for the region they live in known as “the list”.

The latter is intended to make the system more proportional, and allows smaller parties to boost their number of seats.

Because the SNP are likely to be so successful in constituencies, they will not pick up many seats on the list.

In 2016, they secured almost 42% of list votes but that led to only four list seats.

This is because in calculating the distribution of regional seats, the success of a party in constituencies is taken into account.

Alex Salmond argues that if SNP supporters give their second votes to his Alba Party, more pro-independence MSPs will be elected, and there will be “super-majority” for Scotland leaving the UK.

The main losers are likely to be the Scottish Greens, another small pro-independence party which is completely reliant on those second list votes.

Alba could also take some list seats away from pro-union parties such as Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

A third consequence could be that the SNP remain the biggest party at Holyrood, but without the majority they argue would be a mandate for a second independence referendum.

Mr Salmond’s return to frontline politics is also likely to put pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to explain her strategy for achieving separation from the UK, especially if Boris Johnson were to refuse another referendum.

The SNP under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon has been known for its discipline: it is rare for politicians to speak out against the leadership.

Yet in the coming weeks, the former leader is likely to challenge his successor and her policies head on.

That could make this election campaign uncomfortable for Ms Sturgeon.