On Friday, the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, announced the formation of a new pro-independence party, named Alba, in a highly anticipated press conference. The Alba Party is preparing to contest all regional list seats in May’s Scottish Parliamentary election. Thus far, Salmond has announced only four candidates, one being himself with more to follow. Given the recent dispute between Sturgeon and Salmond, many are wondering whether the Alba Party is merely a trojan horse for revenge or whether Salmond has genuine intentions to pursue substantive policies, including on independence.
The Scottish Parliament is elected using a hybrid system of voting whereby there are constituency MSPs and regional list MSPs. The constituency voting is the same as what is used in the UK-wide elections, but the regional list is a separate vote whereby parties are given a number of seats based on their proportion of the vote.
The fact that the Alba Party is only putting up candidates in the system of proportional voting rather than one of plurality is indicative of a genuine desire to pursue independence rather than a hostile approach towards the SNP under Sturgeon. The party has even gone as far as to endorse the SNP for the constituency vote in order to create a ‘supermajority’ of parliamentary support for independence. However, with waning support for independence in recent weeks and a fragmented perception of the independence movement, this may end up backfiring on Salmond and independence as a whole.
Furthermore, the policy difference will likely be minuscule and therefore the success of the party will largely be down to a popularity contest between the two leaders. With declining poll numbers and approval ratings for SNP, this could be an optimum time for Salmond to get a grip on Sturgeon’s abandoned base of support. Whilst it is highly unlikely that Alba will get a majority in the May election, the inroads made could be enough to hold significant influence over the SNP in the next session of parliament.
Salmond’s popularity may be the one major thing that stands in the way of the success of the party. His approval is underwater at an eye-watering -60% compared to Sturgeon’s relative success of +21%. Things are rarely certain in politics but the chances of Salmond gaining any meaningful progress or power are very low at the moment. With little evidence of providing any meaningful assistance to cause of Independence, many have criticised Salmond’s decision, branding it an ego project.
One thing that is for certain is that we should expect the political climate to escalate dramatically in the next few weeks with plenty of personal attacks between the two leaders. The only indicator to watch in coming days is the polling as it will signal whether Salmond’s move has paid off or if both parties will crumble as a result.