Alba Party: Alex Salmond announces bid to return to Holyrood as leader of new pro-independence party
Alex Salmond has declared the launch of his new political party could box Boris Johnson into a corner on the question of independence through achieving a super-majority of pro-independence MSPs in Holyrood.
The former first minister was also challenged on whether his behaviour, admitted to be inappropriate in court, meant he was not an appropriate person to hold public office.
Mr Salmond, who was leader of the SNP twice and brought Scotland close to independence during the referendum in 2014, failed to offer an apology for his behaviour towards women despite being asked several times to do so.
Launching the new Alba Party that he will lead into the 2021 Holyrood elections while attempting to be elected in the North East region, Mr Salmond said the new party would be a fresh “political force” in Scotland.
He claimed a vote for the party would allow those who previously voted for the SNP on the both ballots to vote for a party committed to independence and more likely to return MSPs via the regional list.
This, Mr Salmond said, would give voters a chance to elect a “super-majority” – more than 86 – of pro-independence MSPs to Holyrood with the intent of heaping the pressure on the Prime Minister to accede to demands for Scottish independence.
He said: “The party’s strategic aims are clear and unambiguous – to achieve a successful, socially just and environmentally responsible independent country.
"The tactics are to stand on the regional list to secure the super-majority for independence in our Parliament.
"If Alba wins regional list seats, the wasted votes end. The number of independence supporting MSPs in the Parliament could reach 90 or even more.
"The initiative for independence should then be led by the Parliament uniting the parties.
"Boris Johnson has already said no to the SNP proposals. He will find it much more difficult to say no to a Parliament and a country.
"And the independence debate will be recast not as the Tories against the SNP, but Boris Johnson against Scotland’s Parliament representing Scotland’s people.
"Today Alba are hoisting a flag in the wind – planting our saltire on a hill.”
The announcement from Mr Salmond is a move that is sure to further divide the wider Scottish independence movement. It also marks Mr Salmond’s return to frontline Scottish politics since he was acquitted of sexual offences in a trial in Edinburgh last year.
The launch is the latest twist in the tale of the breakdown of Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon’s relationship, which began when the Scottish Government investigated alleged incidences of sexual harassment against the former first minister.
The return of Mr Salmond to politics will see the two titans of the independence movement lock horns as Ms Sturgeon attempts to return a majority of SNP MSPs to Holyrood.
The former first minister’s decision also comes only days after Mr Salmond said he would take fresh legal action due to the conduct of permanent secretary Leslie Evans following the publication of the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.
The report found significant failings by the government in both its complaints process development and handling. However, in a separate investigation Ms Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the ministerial code.
Mr Salmond was challenged on his behaviour and his appropriateness to hold public office during the at-times farcical press conference dogged by poor internet connections and where only the politician could hear questions from journalists.
Denying his return to politics was about revenge against Ms Sturgeon, Mr Salmond said he wished to “move on” from the scandal and repeatedly invoked the number of court cases and inquiries around his behaviour.
Asked whether he was still a “bully and a creep” or whether he had reformed his behaviour, Mr Salmond said: “I think it isn’t a matter of having a mantra about court cases.
"There is a reason for having court judgements and going to court and that is to establish things.
"There’s a reason we have juries and there is a reason for having charges and being able to answer them and the verdict matters.
"It matters not just to me, it matters to any decent democratic society.”
Asked whether he believed character mattered in an election, Mr Salmond said that is “exactly what an election is about”.
Mr Salmond was also asked whether he needed to offer an apology to the women who complained about his behaviour.
He said: “Everything I have said on the record stands. After the court cases, after the judges, after the jury, after the inquiries, my view is we should accept the results of everything, the ones we like, the ones we don’t like and then we move on.”
SNP MP Mhairi Black responded by saying Mr Salmond was yet to show “any reflection, remorse or basic understanding of his own unacceptable behaviour”.
The Paisley MP said: “Makes me wonder if the women standing for his new party have been offered a makeover yet, like he did with me in 2015.”
Should Alba return a significant number of MSPs, Scotland could see a situation in which Mr Salmond’s new party holds the key votes to push through policies put forward by the SNP.
Mr Salmond will lead the party – established earlier this year by retired TV producer Laurie Flynn – which states it believes independence is a “immediate necessity” and “overwhelming priority”.
Other candidates for the party include Christopher McEleny, a former SNP councillor, former SNP candidate Eva Comrie, and Cynthia Guthrie.
High-profile SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who has been a fierce critic of her party’s approach on both trans rights and independence strategy, confirmed she would not be defecting to the new party on Twitter.
But defections from other high-profile SNP figures may follow. MPs Kenny MacAskill and Angus MacNeil had removed references to the SNP from their Twitter bios just hours after Mr Salmond’s announcement.
Mr MacAskill, the former justice secretary and long-term ally of Mr Salmond, said criticism the party would be “gaming” the system was “absurd”.
In a column for The Scotsman, the MP said: “Firstly, the arithmetic’s clear. In 2016 the SNP polled nearly a million list votes, but returned just four list MSPs, none in two out of the six regional areas.
"On the latest polling they’d return none in any area. Secondly, the independence super-majority being proclaimed by Alba Party will appeal to many independence supporters.
"There’s been frustration at inaction and a deference to Westminster. The idea that the Scottish Parliament can overcome a Boris Johnson veto will excite many.”
Former deputy SNP leader Jim Sillars welcomed Mr Salmond’s return to frontline politics and the new party, saying Scotland “cannot afford to keep his level of ability out of our Parliament”.
In a statement, he said: “But Brexit, the pandemic, the failures of the SNP, the embarrassing stark lack of quality in its ranks in Holyrood, means we are in a new situation when old grievances need to be set aside, and Scotland’s new situation, and needs, must come first
"Independence is important to me, but so is restoring the economy, creating jobs, getting our children educated, supplying good quality housing. I believe that is the view of most people, and I hope the new party’s manifesto recognises that set of priorities, alongside independence."
A UK Government spokesperson: “Now more than ever, people in Scotland want to see the UK Government and the devolved administrations working together to protect lives and livelihoods.
“The United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union the world has ever seen, and this pandemic and our collective response, from the furlough scheme to vaccine procurement and the backing of our military personnel, has shown that we are at our strongest when we work together towards a common goal.
"The push for a divisive referendum is simply irresponsible. It is a distraction, when we need to focus on continuing to tackle the pandemic and rebuilding our economy."