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Sun Mar 28, 2021, 08:00 AM

Some rare good news for Scottish Unionists

Alex Salmond has launched his own political party to split the nationalist vote! Although this does smack of a vanity project on the part of Alex Salmond.


Alex Salmond has launched a new political party in what he described as a bid to build a super-majority for independence in the next Scottish parliament, and which could also enable his own return to Holyrood.

Launching the Alba party on Friday, he denied the “new political force” would rival the Scottish National party, which he led for more than two decades, and insisted that the presence of other pro-independence parties in the parliament would make the position of the Westminster government in refusing powers to hold a second independence referendum “fundamentally weaker”.

Established parties immediately raised doubts about Salmond’s suitability to be a candidate or lead a political party, with the SNP responding that the interests of the country as it emerges from a pandemic “should not be obscured by the self-interest of someone who shows no sign whatsoever of reflecting on serious concerns about his own conduct”.

During the press conference Salmond side-stepped numerous questions about his suitability as a candidate and his previous treatment of female staff, following the publication days ago of evidence to a Holyrood inquiry that described a culture of complicity around his allegedly inappropriate behaviour during his time in office.

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Response to T_i_B (Original post)

Sun Mar 28, 2021, 11:22 AM

1. No, this could in fact be bad news for Scottish unionists, as their recent reactions have reflected!

Last edited Sun Mar 28, 2021, 12:02 PM - Edit history (1)

Cards on the table to start, I'm an SNP member, and will be voting for the SNP in both our local constituency and the regional list. I've never been a major fan of Salmond, knowing that he's Marmite to sectors of the voting public and for a variety of reasons. He secured the first independence referendum, but arguably called it too soon, as shown by the result, and his instinctive blustering, buccaneering approach meant that he performed less than convincingly in the final debates of that campaign. He was found not guilty at trial last year of multiple charges of historical sexual offences against female staff at Holyrood, but he and his counsel conceded that his behaviour had been transgressive, and if it had happened in any commercial business, he would have been guilty of various offences that would have warranted disciplinary measures and sacking.

Salmond's Alba Party won't compete with the SNP in the constituencies, and therefore can't split the vote with the SNP there. In fact, Salmond is encouraging people to vote for the SNP candidates at directly elected constituency level. It will only stand candidates on the regional lists. In the last few elections, the SNP has done so well in the constituencies that it has gained very few top-up seats from the regional lists (only four at the last elections). I don't want to get too far into the weeds about the D'Hondt PR system for Holyrood elections, but basically it's weighted such that the more seats a party gains in the constituencies, the harder it is for it to gain seats on the lists. Its intention is that the final tally of MSPs is in proportion to the number of votes each party gains Scotland-wide.

Salmond's rationale is that an additional pro-independence party has the potential to get around this hobbling arrangement by mopping up seats that would otherwise be distributed to other parties, mainly unionist, by the list vote. The D'Hondt system's quite unpredictable, but the rule of thumb is that to do this, his party needs to secure at least 5-6% of the vote in any given region to secure an MSP.

Polling before his party's launch put the SNP on course for an overall majority of seats relying on constituency votes alone, but with the possibility of a safety net of sufficent votes on the lists to overcome the weighting and gain a few more seats that way. Salmond claimed at his party's launch that it would secure a "supermajority" for independence at Holyrood. Arguably, this intervention isn't needed as the SNP have appeared well on course for a convincing majority anyway.

The risk for the SNP isn't splitting its vote so much as scaring "soft Yes" voters away from the SNP in a similar way to how the Tories spread fear about a Milliband victory at Westminster allowing the dreaded SNP to effectively ransom his party in return for support to gain a majority and form a government. Nicola Sturgeon has done very well with a gradualist approach that has won support from people who would not be natural SNP supporters (I know of a few surprising examples in my own neighbourhood). A brasher approach by Salmond's party risks undoing at least some of that progress by association. There's also going to be inevitable bad blood between supporters of the two parties, which may make matters a bit messy.

Nicola Sturgeon's personal approval ratings are sky-high in Scotland, streets ahead of any rival. Salmond ranks below even Boris Johnson in the same polls, so it remains to be seen whether his campaign can improve that standing and make him an asset rather than a liability among enough voters. The Scottish Green Party (which is pro-independence) only stands on the regional lists at Holyrood, so it could be seen as vulnerable to vote poaching by the Alba Party, but polls have shown a very poor standing for Salmond among Green supporters, even worse than among the general population.

The Alba Party has peeled off a couple of SNP MPs so far, but they're not seen as a great loss to the SNP.

One is Kenny MacAskill, who returned to Westminster in the last election having served under Salmond as Justice Secretary, when his major claim to fame was the botched release of alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Despite persistent evidence that's still being explored in the courts that Megrahi was framed, MacAskill insisted he was guilty but released him on compassionate grounds, maintaining that his terminal cancer was sufficient punishment for his "deeds". Having returned to Westminster, MacAskill has been a loose cannon, collaborating with anti-SNP Scottish bloggers and publishing a number of hyper-critical newspaper columns.

The other is Neale Hanvey, who entered Westminster at the last election as an independent candidate after the SNP suspended him late in the election campaign for allegations of anti-Semitism. After six months, he regained the SNP whip, but has always been a bit of an awkward fit for the party.

So far, both of them have joined the Alba Party but indicated their intention to remain as MPs and caucus with the SNP at Westminster. How long the SNP will tolerate this is anybody's guess, but with the elections less than six weeks away, there's not much time to address it now. One of the MPs, MacAskill, has used SNP member mailing lists to canvass for list votes for the Alba Party, which is probably a contravention of data protection laws and hasn't gone down well with a number of his constituents, let alone the SNP.

A few more defections may be expected to trickle out in the next couple of days before the deadline for candidate registration. Some had suspected that Joanna Cherry MP might be one of them, but last week she announced that she was withdrawing from public life for a while for unspecified health reasons, and she's since indicated she won't be leaving the SNP.

So the effect of the Alba Party on the elections' outcome makes the D'Hondt system even more unpredictable than it already is, but may threaten the unionist parties much more than the SNP.

To vote tactically at the regional list level successfully means gambling on whether your favoured party will win at constituency level. In my own constituency, Labour's Jackie Baillie had a very small majority at the last election and has a strong SNP opponent, but she could prove hard to displace because of unionist anti-SNP tactical voting, so I'll be hedging my bets by voting SNP on the regional list, on the basis that if the SNP don't win the constituency, they'll have a marginally better chance of gaining a list seat in our area. Similar calculations will need to be made by others for every constituency and region.

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Response to Emrys (Reply #1)

Sun Mar 28, 2021, 02:46 PM

2. The problem with splits

Is that people see the two factions and think "a curse on both your houses".

I also wonder how much of this is vanity / bad blood on the part of Salmond and that's something the press could really hone in on. If people start to think this is all rather petty and personal that won't do any good for either SNP or Alba.

Which leaves the Nationalist rather reliant on the Unionist parties running worse campaigns.

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Response to T_i_B (Reply #2)

Sun Mar 28, 2021, 04:35 PM

3. You seem to be invested in this idea of this "splitting" the pro-independence vote

What I wrote above shows that such a "split", at constituency level, is irrelevant in terms of votes. Its supposed importance has been a chorus from London-based pundits who've proven that they can't get their heads around the D'Hondt system and the fact the situation is more nuanced than that.

If Salmond is to be taken at face value (a dangerous tack, but let's play along for now at least), that is not his intention, and not the aim of setting up this new party.

The counter to your argument is that the two "factions" are far from balanced. On the one hand we have a party that has long been in government in Scotland and has a proven track record, concrete policy proposals for the future (beyond seeking a new referendum) and a widely trusted leader. On the other we have a new "insurgent" party with a deeply unpopular personality with a seriously dodgy history at its helm, a threadbare agenda beyond a headlong drive to independence and certain socially conservative issues that's being cobbled together at a very late stage with little or no membership input, and a rag-tag collection of SNP defectors joining its ranks.

I've described what I see as the possible pitfalls for the SNP, but we've nearly six weeks of campaigning to try to thrash these issues out. The media may seek to make hay out of Salmond's re-emergence, but the SNP has gotten to where it is today despite almost universally hostile mainstream media treatment.

Salmond has largely shot his bolt. He bided his time until the two reports on Sturgeon's role in the run-up to his prosecution played out in her favour, then seems to have gone off half-cocked with a distinctly amateurish launch of his new party very late in the day. Pettiness and personal attacks on Sturgeon and her administration are nothing new from the Salmond faction (among others), they've been going on for the last couple of years, and they don't seem to have made any great difference in polling. Boredom and impatience with Salmond's persistence and lack of remorse are also factors. In fact, with the recent defections, the SNP is looking like it has strong potential to be a more coherent and unified force.

On past form, if the SNP are indeed reliant on the unionist parties running worse campaigns, then it's hardly worth wasting time on the elections!

We generally lump Scottish Labour in with the "unionist" side, but polling has shown that up to half their current supporters are in favour of a second independence referendum, if not independence itself, despite the unionist stance of their new leader, Anas Sarwar. The Scottish Tories have a new leader, Douglas Ross MP, who's distinctly unappealing in general and lacks recognition to the extent that Boris Johnson can't even get his name right, and they have no policies to speak of other than "SNP out" and slavishly following the UK Tory line, its many warts and all. Their previous media darling, Ruth Davidson, is ditching Scotland and what few principles she ever had to head off for the cosiness of the Lords. The LibDems are even more of a minor force in Holyrood than they are in the UK as a whole, have a joke of a leader in the bumptious bumpkin Willie Rennie, and will be lucky to hold onto the few seats they currently have. On the other hand, the pro-independence Scottish Greens are enjoying positive polling that has shown them at least doubling their current number of seats at list level, and they've indicated that they are wide open to some sort of coalition with the SNP.

We may have a slightly clearer view of the impact of Salmond's initiative after the next couple of rounds of Scotland-only polling. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

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Response to Emrys (Reply #3)

Mon Mar 29, 2021, 05:41 AM

4. As you say, the Scottish Greens are already pro-independence

and so those for whom independence matters above all have already had a viable alternative for their regional list vote. It's really a question of "would you like a party led by Salmond to have some seats in the Scottish Parliament, or the Greens?"

I think it is reasonable to see it as mainly an ego-driven move by Salmond, with a desire to make the SNP dependent on him to get difficult votes through. As you say, wait and see how polling turns out (and I can't remember if polls are very good at predicting the nitty-gritty of how the regional vote works out), but unless the SNP get the parliamentary majority, it seems like a problem for them.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #4)

Mon Mar 29, 2021, 09:55 AM

5. Yes, you're right.

Last edited Mon Mar 29, 2021, 11:50 AM - Edit history (1)

Given the Greens' current promising performance in the polls and the probable lack of cross-over between their potential voters and those who would be likely to vote for the Alba Party (Alba looks set to be socially conservative on some issues the Greens hold dear, like the SNP-led Gender Recognition Act), it's unlikely Salmond will directly poach many of their voters, but adding another party to the lists could lead to some unpredictable effects. If only it was as simple as a trade-off between the Greens and Alba! On the other hand, a noisy cabal of hardline Salmond-friendly independence supporters on social media had been saying they would spoil their ballots rather than vote for the SNP in the coming election, so I guess they now have a home.

The D'Hondt system is notoriously difficult to game, and it's generally been felt by pollsters and demographers that it's best not to even try. Apart from anything else, it could hand Johnson & Co. a great get-out clause that the final result is somehow invalid if it shows a strong majority for pro-independence parties. I have some sympathy with that - we will need losers' assent for any moves that result from the election (including an eventual independence referendum if it goes for Yes), and anything that feels like steamrollering and "undemocratic" will just feed into the unionist propaganda.

On recent polling, even after the Salmond inquiry shenanigans at Holyrood, the SNP looked set for a clear majority with just the constituency vote, so Salmond's bluster about a "supermajority" is unnecessary and could be unhelpful. As Sturgeon pointed out the other day, he's a gambler. The SNP picking up some list seats would give it a safety net if some of the constituencies don't pan out. The worst case for the SNP (other than falling far short of a majority) would be Salmond and a couple of other Alba MSPs being given the role of queen/kingmaker, which has been the Greens' role in recent times and one most people have been pretty comfortable with.

It remains to be seen what sort of percentage preliminary polling shows for Alba, and where. Anything less than 5% makes them not worth voting for, and potentially counterproductive. There are a few other new pro-independence parties, one of which has basically folded into Alba, but they've been polling at a small fraction of a percentage point. Previous pro-independence parties/alliances, like RISE, have severely disappointed themselves despite having a very high opinion of themselves.

A lot will hinge on Salmond's personal popularity, which is currently very poor. He lost his seat as an MP to a Tory in his own constituency in the 2017 election, so he's not been invulnerable even in the northeast region seen as his home territory and where he'll be standing this time.

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Response to T_i_B (Original post)

Tue Mar 30, 2021, 11:17 AM

6. Hmm, it's not been an auspicious couple of days for the Alba Party

Yesterday, the Alba faction were excited about a much-trailed "big hitter" who was going to be announced as a candidate. It ended up being featherweight champion boxer Alex Arthur (no, I'd never heard of him either).

It wasn't long before people took a look at his Twitter account ...

Alba Party's Alex Arthur apologises for grossly offensive tweets
THE Alba Party’s new “big hitter” has been forced to apologise after making a series of highly offensive comments on social media.

They included disparaging remarks about “beggars”, Gypsies and AIDS patients, as well as posts claiming he doesn’t need to get a coronavirus vaccine.

In January last year, he posted: “Them Romanian beggars in Edinburgh ain’t hungry!! Just drove past them all ready to switch up begging posts and ALL em fat as big juicy over fed pigs!”

After the tweets came to light, the former boxer doubled down. He posted last night: “I actually have Romanian friends, some here some in Romania. And they have warned me about certain beggars in certain areas and how they rotate.”

Arthur also raised doubts about the Covid-19 vaccination in response to reports that over-40s are to be prioritised in the next phase of the rollout. “Yes! I’m going to be ok,” he tweeted in February. “Oh wait I’m not fat or unhealthy with no underlying issues. Keep yer jab!”

In another tweet from that month he again raised doubts about the vaccine, claiming: "I just don't believe I need it."


After initially doubling down on his comments about "Romanians", Arthur tweeted this:

That's all very well, but among his "Likes", someone found ...

As well as the dodgy tweets mentioned in the article above, Arthur reacted with threats of violence to some tweeters, in posts that reeked of homophobia.

Others have pointed out the irony of someone standing for a pro-independence party whose Twitter account proudly bills him as "Alex Arthur MBE": https://twitter.com/AlexArthur1

Economist Jim Walker was one of today's prize catches for Salmond, but unfortunately he's an advocate for involving Bitcoin in a new Scottish national currency, and ...

Alba Party candidate apologises after calling Nicola Sturgeon 'a cow'
Dr Jim Walker was forced to make an apology just hours after he was revealed as a candidate for Alex Salmond's new party.

A new Alba Party candidate has been forced to apologise after calling Nicola Sturgeon "a cow" just days before it was announced he would stand for Alex Salmond's breakaway independence movement.

Economist Dr Jim Walker was unveiled as the party's latest recruit earlier today to contest the Central Scotland list.

Dr Walker, who is a chief economist at Aletheia Capital in Hong Kong, will travel back to his place of birth to stand for election to the Scottish Parliament.

But on Sunday, March 28 he took to Twitter to call the First Minister "a cow" in response to a video where Sturgeon described Salmond as a "gambler".


This is cringeworthy. It's not my party, but I look forward to the candidate registration deadline when this stream of crap will fizzle out, as it's just embarrassing and depressing.

There have been rumours about the possible defection of one or two more SNP MPs, but time is quickly running out.

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Response to Emrys (Reply #6)

Wed Mar 31, 2021, 08:11 AM

7. Doesn't look good - the party for nationalists with grudges and dodgy views

that mean they're not viable candidates, or welcome supporters, in the SNP. The equivalent of the UKIP/Faragists for the Tories.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #7)

Wed Mar 31, 2021, 11:19 AM

8. There have been tensions within the SNP for a while.

Last edited Wed Mar 31, 2021, 04:24 PM - Edit history (1)

The recent defections reflect that and may resolve some of them (heaven knows what'll happen once the election results pan out, but there's been a lot of bridge-burning over the last few weeks!). And then there's these imported headbangers to add to the mix ... Meanwhile, the SNP claims a sustained intake of new and renewed members in recent weeks, so it's swings and roundabouts. Some have said this is a process of splitting and sorting that might have been expected in the aftermath of a successful independence referendum.

Alba's recruitment of candidates has inevitably been rushed. There's been no hint of disapproval or disciplinary action from Alba about Arthur. Walker's transgression is distasteful, but not off the scale, and he has apologized, but it pales in comparison with the daily abuse directed at Sturgeon anyway. What's been especially disappointing from some of the more vocal (well, I really mean manic) online Alba supporters is their defence of Arthur and their whataboutery. In fact, we've heard little from Alba itself since its inception apart from announcements of fairly high-profile joiners and candidates. Their selection process is a mystery. I guess that's going to have fallen to Salmond in the main. I think vetting's been a luxury they haven't been able to afford.

There will be some good people in Alba once is configures itself, despite my current hard feelings. Whether they can form something longer-lived than the election period and housetrain the headbangers remains to be seen.

We had the first leaders' debate last night on BBC. Salmond wasn't invited as the party's too new and has no polling record (also, letting him in would have opened the gates to the likes of George Galloway, who's continued his carpet-bagging descent into madness and hopefully further irrelevance by setting up his own party, All For Unity, where he's trying to band together with harder-core unionists and general anti-SNPers in a craven turnaround from a year or two ago when he instructed people to shoot him if he ever banded together with the Tories).

It was a poorly set up format, cramming into an hour or so questions to Nicola Sturgeon, Anas Sarwar, Willie Rennie, Douglas Ross, and a first outing for the Greens' co-leader Lorna Slater.

Sturgeon was competent if a bit subdued, but didn't really need to do much other than hold it together anyway. Rennie was worthy but boring. Sarwar was more impressive than his predecessor (which is a low bar, but one he easily cleared). Slater was the star for many (I was impressed, myself). She came across as energetic and on top of her brief, and judging from social media, seems to have gained quite a few list votes for the Greens. Ross became a predictable disgrace after a lukewarm beginning.

The questions from the audience in a Zoom format were disappointingly repetitive, the first few mainly calling on Sturgeon to focus on Covid etc. rather than a second referendum, which at least gave her an opportunity to point to all she has been doing in the last term of Holyrood. There was an outburst from one questioner - one of only two identifiable independence supporters who was called on (which says something about the lack of balance of the show) - who described the party leaders other than Sturgeon and Slater as "branch managers" among other things (which is accurate, if intemperately expressed), but he was soon hushed up by the compere, Sarah Smith. Another was a Chilean who'd settled in Scotland some years ago, who expressed appreciation that he (and others, like my American citizen wife) can vote in this election after the franchise was extended and ended up being someone who'll vote SNP at constituency level and Greens on the list. None of the questions touched on Brexit, which is crazy and let Ross off the hook.

Despite accusations from mainly Ross, but with all the others except Slater wading in, that Sturgeon is overly obsessed with a new referendum, Ross mentioned it 19 times during the course of the debate, versus the others' bare handfuls of mentions.

There were two real highlights, both involving Sarwar and Ross. Ross tried to engage Sarwar in some sort of anti-SNP alliance last week, at which Sarwar, to his credit, reportedly told him to "grow up". The two clashed in the middle of the debate, then again at the end, in response to a closing softball question from the audience about the leaders' role in combating online abuse among their supporters, which the other leaders showed solidarity in condemning and committing to continuing to oppose, whereas Ross inexplicably tried to blame any and all discord on the continued calls for a new referendum and let fly at Sarwar (whose ethnicity has meant he's been subject to more abuse than most) for supposedly not being anti-independence enough. Sarwar was having none of it and reprised his "grow up" line (I can only find a Twitter video at the moment, but it may be on YouTube):

It was (for me) strangely invigorating to see a Labour leader show some natural, heartfelt and well-placed fire after the doldrums of Richard Leonard's time in that post. It reminded me of Biden's "Aw, shut up, man" moment in the debate with Trump.

Some, me included, interpreted the dynamic as Sarwar having accepted, intelligently, that the real contest in this election is for second place (and Ross also realizing and panicking about this). If it means Labour joining in in knocking justified chunks out of the Tories rather than continuing to focus solely on slagging off the SNP, I'm all for it!

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Response to T_i_B (Original post)

Wed Mar 31, 2021, 04:13 PM

9. We still have a bit of a wait till the first post-launch polling for Alba

In the mean time, from a researcher at Glasgow University, here's a look at the party's presence on social media, which is of heightened importance at the moment and in the campaign as a whole because face-to-face/doorstep encounters will be few and far between, and short of stunts and engineered controversies, Alba's going to struggle for mainstream media coverage.

It reinforces my own impression from Twitter: some hyperactive roasters/zoomers, many of whom I already had on mute, zipping around with a surprising degree of cockiness and further alienating people, especially SNP supporters, whose patience they'd already overtaxed, drowning out the more thoughtful Alba voices who may be soon, if not currently, wondering what the hell they've gotten mixed up with.

This Twitter thread hasn't been Thread Readered yet, so I'm just going to paste the tweets. If anyone can't read them and wants me to copy and paste the tweet contents, let me know and I'll do so.

As for Kenny MacAskill, mentioned earlier ...

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Response to T_i_B (Original post)

Sat May 8, 2021, 07:41 PM

10. I don't want to clutter up today's Scottish election results thread with this bitter old hasbeen,

but since we talked about Alba and Salmond a bit here, I thought this would serve as a fitting postscript. These were his remarks this morning, coming to terms with Alba's abject failure along with a few of the party's apparatchiks, in case anyone was wondering how he was faring:

Alasdair Clark

Some extraordinary comments from Alex Salmond on his Youtube appearance today. Says Alba will continue to grow, accuses Nicola Sturgeon of "losing her nerve" on independence in 2017

Alasdair Clark

Elsewhere in Alex Salmond’s YouTube video, he says now that Donald Trump has ‘left a vacuum for me’, he is going to ‘unleash’ himself on Twitter and ‘deal with the @MrJohnNicolson’s of this world’

[Twitter video]

(John Nicholson is an SNP MP. He can sometimes be a bit outspoken on Twitter, but is otherwise a gent, so I've no idea why Salmond's decided he's got it in for him. Maybe a Trumpian Twitter ban awaits ...?)

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