Yesterday, following the widely covered announcement of Alex Salmond’s new Alba party, those who listened very closely would have heard two distinct sounds: a pained groan and a jubilant celebration. For the SNP, it was a knife thrust deep into their back, and for Unionists, it was the joy of watching an enemy devour itself. Alba’s hype — that it will somehow game the system and end up with an unchallengeable majority — is the ravings of a vindictive and ego-driven man high on his own supply.
For his hare-brained scheme to work, Salmond needs the SNP, and Nicola Sturgeon, to agree to work with him. That’s right; he needs to convince a party that has built its identity around progressive social issues to work with a man who, despite being acquitted, has admitted to “sleepy cuddles”.
A man who, only days ago, was demanding his alleged persecutors resign en masse from the government, while accusing his new supposed ally of breaking the ministerial code. A woman, and a government, who he believes engaged in a conspiracy to have him imprisoned, described him as a “gambler” and his supporters as “cronies”. That’s hardly a solid base for a political collaboration.
Salmond has to convince SNP voters to break the SNP’s mantra of “Both votes SNP” because he will never get any votes from anti-Nationalist voters. This brings him into direct conflict with the SNP, escalating his previous cold war into a hot (un)civil war.
If you’re a Nationalist you might think that voters’ highest priority is ‘independence’, but polls consistently say the constitutional issue is low on most voters’ priorities. Polls also say that most people don’t want a referendum in the next few years. But Salmond’s Alba party puts the constitution right up front by claiming the SNP is not serious about secession. To prove they are indeed the vehicle for separation, the SNP will have to continuously affirm their commitment to a second referendum. And to hold one quickly. This is a turn off to many soft voters who want stability after the pandemic.
Every concession Salmond forces from the SNP will open the way for more attacks. He will use all the secrets and insider information he has amassed on the SNP, information that was going to be part of his book, which Jim Sillars described as “a volcano going off under the SNP”.
Despite claims that he is “moving on”, Salmond will ensure that Nicola Sturgeon’s damaging scandals remain in the public consciousness and that the SNP remain seen as more divided than ever.
Nicola Sturgeon wanted to go into the election claiming she’s a capable pair of hands (she isn’t), who has brought Scotland through the pandemic safely (she hasn’t) but now she has to deal with a man out for revenge, who will force her to talk about an issue she doesn’t want to talk about, while reminding everyone of her administration’s corruption. It’s almost Shakespearean.
Voters won’t see Alba as a new party, but rather a breaking apart of the SNP, and voters punish divided parties. Can you imagine the televised debates? A Jeremy Kyle meets Judge Judy circus, playing out as a national psychodrama can only damage the secessionist cause.
Even if Nicola Sturgeon cooperates, she will be punished for it. How would her moderates, or those who vote for her on the basis of various social issues, view her forming an alliance with a man with such a reputation? They would not stand for it. They will either not vote, or head to the other parties that have taken the SNP’s side on issues such as the GRA and the Hate Crime Bill, namely Labour. Nicola Sturgeon and her rump SNP are stuck between a rock and a hard place with all paths leading to lost voters.
And spare a thought for the Greens, who have so loyally supported Sturgeon through recent votes of no confidence, only to be wiped out by Salmond’s belligerence. They won’t go quietly either. The fighting multiplies and the voters look on in disdain.
Despite the doomsday cries coming from some anti-Nationalists, this is the best possible situation that could have happened, short of Alex Salmond drawing a Claymore and charging into Holyrood looking for Nicola’s head. Yes, the Scottish Tories are beating the drum of an electoral agreement, but if they really wanted one, it would be done through back channels and not with an open letter. Scottish Labour will surely benefit most from Nationalist disaffection.
So, don’t worry about the chances of a super-majority, because if this plan had any real chance of working, you could bet that the SNP would have tried it already. Instead, vote for the party most likely to beat the SNP in your region and load up on the popcorn and marshmallows, because this fire will burn bright and long, leaving only faint ashes behind it.
Angus Robinson is a lecturer at a UK university. Follow him on Twitter @AnguspfRobinso1