On Friday 26 March 2021 Alex Salmond announced his leadership of the Alba (Gaelic for: Scotland) Party.
The Alba Party was founded in January 2021 by the retired television producer (and, in the 1970s, Socialist Worker journalist) Laurie Flynn. The party’s central goal is:
“National independence for Scotland as an immediate necessity and overwhelming priority … the promotion of all Scottish interests, and the building of an economically successful, environmentally responsible and socially-just independent country, through the pursuit of a social-democratic programme.”
Salmond shares those goals. But his assumption of the party’s leadership is driven by other factors: unbridled ambition, unfettered egoism, and an unquenchable lust for revenge on the leadership of the SNP.
Salmond is a former MP and MSP, a former Deputy Leader and Leader of the SNP, a former First Minister of Scotland, and, following his resignation in August 2018, a former member of the SNP.
The fact that Salmond was formerly so many things only underlines the extent to which he now is (or at least deserves to be) a political busted flush. But like a bad smell, he just refuses to go away.
Salmond resigned from the SNP in order, he said, to concentrate on clearing his name of allegations of sexual misconduct, and to avoid damaging and splitting the SNP. If cleared of the allegations, he continued, he would apply to re-join the SNP.
Salmond was subsequently charged with 14 sex crimes, including one count of attempted rape and one of sexual assault with intent to rape, involving ten different women in the period 2008-14, when he held office as First Minister.
Salmond admitted that he was “no saint”. During his trial, held in March of 2020, he said that he wished he had been “more careful with people’s personal space.” One of his own witnesses summed up Salmond’s defence as “I’m sleazy, but not criminal.”
His lawyer said that Salmond’s behaviour “could be inappropriate” at times, that he “behaved badly”, and that “could have been a better man on occasions”. Filmed speaking on his phone on a train during the trial, the lawyer described Salmond as “an objectionable bully” and “a sex pest”.
Salmond was cleared of all charges. The corollary implied by that verdict is that all the women who gave evidence against Salmond must have concocted their stories as part of a conspiracy to undermine Salmond.
And that has been Salmond’s personal crusade over the past twelve months: Everybody is out to get him – the police, Scottish civil servants, the Procurator Fiscal, Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell (a rare male in a cast predominantly made up of females), and other leading figures in the SNP.
And whereas he had previously conceded that he was not a saint, at the press conference announcing his leadership of the Alba Party Salmond dismissed all questions about his conduct by references to his success in court.
The Alba Party will be standing list candidates in all electoral regions in May’s Holyrood elections. Salmond’s calculation is that enough SNP voters will vote SNP in their constituency but Alba Party in the regional lists to secure his return to Holyrood (and perhaps the election of other Alba Party candidates).
There is a logic to that calculation. In the 2016 Holyrood elections the SNP picked up a nearly a million list votes. But its success in individual constituencies meant that this translated into just four MSPs. Salmond is targeting those million voters.
But with a popularity rating of just 15%, Salmond is less popular in Scotland than Boris Johnson.
And in the myriad of allegations about who-knew-what-when about Salmond’s conduct, only 25% of Scottish voters (many of whom will be Tory and Labour voters, driven by an intense dislike of Sturgeon) believe Salmond’s version rather than Sturgeon’s.
Salmond’s core support consists essentially of the tinfoil-helmet-clad conspiracy theorists who "know" about those secret oilfields and who "know" that pencils are provided for voting in ballot booths so that the secret services can rub out and change votes.
(Surely there is a less painstaking and less labour-intensive way to rig a ballot?)
Salmond is portraying his electoral intervention as providing a helping hand to the SNP: it could result in a super-majority for independence of some 90 MSPs in the 129 seat Holyrood Parliament. In fact, his intervention undermines the SNP electoral strategy.
The SNP wants to win votes from weak independence supporters, or even non-supporters, by focusing on its supposed positive record in government (i.e. not as bad as the Tories in Westminster) while continuing to promise a second referendum (to keep the faithful on board).
Salmond’s intervention will shift the focus of the elections onto the issue of a second referendum, and also highlight the failings of Sturgeon and the SNP government in how it dealt with the allegations against him.
(The government had to pay Salmond £500,000 in legal expenses in 2019 because of flaws in its inquiry into allegations of his sexual misconduct. And last Wednesday Salmond announced that he was initiating further – as yet unspecified – legal actions against the Scottish Government.)
The Daily Record began its coverage of Salmond’s announcement of his leadership of the Alba Party with the words “Just when you thought the circus had left town ….”
In fact, the entire Holyrood election is now shaping up to be reminiscent of a Victorian circus with its so-called "freak show".
The Alba Party will be led by someone who seems to believe that any misconduct which falls short of actual rape is no barrier to standing for election to public office.
In a mirror image of Salmond and the Alba Party, the equally discredited George Galloway has created “All for Unity”.
This latest manifestation of the Galloway ego is appealing for votes for its list candidates from anyone opposed to a second referendum. In constituencies it is calling for a vote for whichever candidate is best placed to beat the SNP – including Tory candidates.
Having sat out the Corbyn years, the Socialist Party Scotland has revived the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), a coalition of itself and a few other individuals, to stand candidates in May, on the basis of socialism and a second referendum.
But given their unstinting support for Tommy Sheridan at the time of the split in the Scottish Socialist Party, they might have more in common with Salmond and Galloway than they realise
In Scottish Labour there has been a management buyout and posh-boy Anas Sarwar has rebranded Scottish Labour list candidates as “Scottish Labour Party: Anas Sarwar – Labour’s National Recovery Plan” candidates.
Whether the national recovery plan includes the Sarwar family business recognising a trade union and paying its workers the Scottish Living Wage remains to be seen. But it certainly doesn’t seem to include a 15% pay rise for NHS workers.
But in an election where so many male egos are in play, Sarwar’s act of rebranding Scottish Labour in his own image has ended up as just part of the scenery.