A guide to Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party
Former first minister is aiming to bolster pro-independence support in Scottish Parliament
Scotland’s biggest political parties will take part in the first televised leadership debate tonight ahead of May’s Holyrood election next month - but one absent new leader is likely to overshadow the evening.
Alex Salmond is returning to front-line politics as the chief of newly formed pro-independence party Alba - the Scottish-Gaelic name for Scotland. The former first minister’s long-running feud with his successor Nicola Sturgeon has threatened to hobble the nationalist cause, but he is now vowing to help build “a super-majority for independence” in the Scottish Parliament.
How did Alba begin?
Although Salmond officially launched the Alba Party on Friday, it was registered with the Electoral Commission in February by a retired TV producer called Laurie Flynn.
In a statement last week, Flynn said that he was “delighted to hand over the reins” to Salmond. “He is the right person to help deliver a supermajority for independence,” Flynn added.
What does it stand for?
According to the Alba Party’s official website, the main goals are to secure:
- national independence for Scotland as an immediate necessity, through a vote of people living in Scotland
- the promotion of all Scottish interests, and the building of an economically successful and socially just independent country, through the pursuit of a social-democratic programme
- the acceptance by the Scottish people of a written constitution for the newly independent country; defending the rights, liberties and equality of all citizens before the law.
Who has defected?
A handful of former Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) members have already joined Salmond’s new party, with more defections expected to follow. The line-up of Alba Party joiners includes:
- Kenny MacAskill - East Lothian MP and former SNP justice secretary
- Neale Hanvey - Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP
- Michelle Ferns - Glasgow City Council
- Ellen McMaster - North Ayrshire Council
- Caroline McAllister - West Dunbartonshire Council and national women’s convener
- Lynne Anderson - North Lanarkshire Council and former national equalities convener
Can the new party win any seats?
Alba will contest the election as a “list-only party”. Under Scotland’s voting system, a total of 73 MSPs are elected to represent constituencies under a first-past-the-post ballot, “with the SNP expected to win most of those seats in May”, says The Guardian.
The remaining 56 MSPs are elected by a regional list system that is “designed to make the seat distribution more representative of the overall vote”, the paper continues. In the 2016 election, “the SNP did so well in constituency voting that it won list seats in only two of the eight regions” up for grabs.
So, Salmond has argued, by running Alba candidates only in the regional lists in the upcoming vote, on 6 May, the new party will avoid taking votes from the SNP while electing more independence-supporting MSPs.
The former Scottish leader has said that Alba is likely to field “a minimum” of four candidates in each of the eight regional lists, in the hopes of electing Alba MSPs “from every area of Scotland”.
Not everyone is hopeful about his odds of achieving that goal, however. The new party looks unlikely to replicate the success of French president Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, which “catapulted to power a year after its founding”, says The Scotsman.
Instead, polls point to Alba becoming the new “Change UK - sinking out of sight after electoral humiliation”, the paper continues. The SNP, meanwhile, “looks likely to be on course as a majority government, even if only just, by winning in the constituencies”.
But other pundits argue that Salmond’s new political venture might yet pull victory out of the bag. “There simply isn’t enough data yet to judge how well the Alba Party are likely to do, and speculative predictions range from ‘zero seats anywhere in Scotland’ to’ overtaking the Tories’”, says pro-independence paper The National.
That said, adds the paper, “what we do know is that Salmond himself will be the lead candidate in the northeast”, where he has “formidable electoral track record” - providing the party’s “best chance of grabbing a list seat”.
What does this mean for the SNP and the union?
Salmond “may hope his group could act a bit like a pressure group that has enough votes to bend the rest of parliament to its will”, and hold “Sturgeon’s feet to the fire on a second independence referendum”, said BBC Scotland. An SNP spokesperson last week dismissed the launch of the new pro-independence party as “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,” the spokesperson added.
Whether the SNP’s leaders are quite so nonchalant behind closed doors about the political newcomer is a matter of speculation. But Sturgeon’s team “certainly doesn’t view Alba as a welcome satellite party to boost the pro-independence majority”, writes Ailbhe Rea in the New Statesman.
“As for its unspoken aim - to be the thorn in Sturgeon’s side, and a possible vehicle back into politics for Salmond - its potential is less clear,” Rea continues.
“But the full impact of Alba on the SNP and the independence movement remains to be seen.”