Could two political enemies be about to exploit AMS to form a ‘supermajority for independence’?

The Alba Party was formed on the 8th February 2021 but came to prominence on the 26th March 2021 when it was announced that former SNP Leader and First Minister, Alex Salmond, would become leader of the party. The pro-independence party announced that it would be putting forward candidates in the upcoming Scottish Parliament Elections.

Nicola Sturgeon was seen to be Alex Salmond’s political protege and they were both personally and politically close.

Alex Salmond has a long history in Scottish Politics. He became an SNP MP in 1987 and then became leader of the SNP from 1990 until the year 2000. In 1999 he was elected to the newly founded Scottish Parliament and he again became leader of the SNP between 2004 and 2014. In 2007, Salmond became the First Minister of Scotland and he held this position until 2014. He successfully lobbied the British government to hold the Scottish Independence Referendum in which he led the ‘Yes’ campaign. In this referendum the ‘No’ side won by 55% to 45%. Finally, in 2015 he returned to House of Commons as an SNP MP before losing his seat in 2017. As First Minister he was a mentor to Nicola Sturgeon, who was seen to be his political protege.

Alex Salmond was not found guilty of any criminal charges.

It has been a very difficult few years for Alex Salmond. In August 2018 allegations were made that while he was First Minister of Scotland he had acted in a sexually inappropriate way to members of his staff. He resigned from the SNP and promised to clear his name before returning to the party. In January 2019 Salmond was arrested by Police Scotland, and following this, he was charged with 14 offences, including attempted rape and sexual assault. However, in March 2019, Salmond was found not guilty on 12 charges and not proven on one charge (the remaining charge had already been dropped by the prosecution).

Following the ending of the criminal prosecutions against him, Salmond suggested there has been impropriety by the Scottish Government in its handing of the case. He launched a judicial review and convincingly won his case and was awarded £613,000 in legal costs and £512,000 in a financial settlement.

Following the judicial review, serious question marks were raised over First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s involvement in the case and the Scottish Parliament commenced an investigation into the affair. Salmond claimed that key figures within the SNP, including Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell (Chief Executive of the SNP), had plotted to see him prosecuted and imprisoned. Notably, a subsequent public inquiry found that the Scottish Government had proceeded to defend the judicial review case against Salmond even after lawyers advised them it was certain to fail.

There were accusations that Sturgeon has misled the Scottish Parliament an acted inappropriately. She initially told parliament that she had first become aware of the allegations from Salmond himself when he had told her of them in a private meeting on the 2nd April 2018. However, subsequently, it was discovered that she had become aware of the allegations against her on the 29th March 2018 and should never, therefore, have held an informal and unrecorded meeting with Salmond on the 2nd April 2018.

Sturgeon defended her actions in an 8 hour session with the committee investigating the affair. However, whilst recognizing his behavior had not been found to be criminal, Sturgeon aggressively criticised Salmond’s behavior and lack of any sense of remorse:

The committee, on which the SNP has a majority, did not find that Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code and Sturgeon that same evening survived a motion of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament by 65 votes to 31. However, one thing is beyond any doubt – the relationship between Sturgeon and Salmond is completely beyond repair.

Salmond has now returned to front-line Politics aiming, in his words, to secure a “supermajority for independence”:

To sum up the week, I rather liked our founder Laurie Flynn’s statement of yesterday that in one single week we had surpassed the membership total of the Liberal Democrats who had been working at it, in various disguises, for 150 years.

Our real achievement, however, has been to bring into place 32 candidates of talent and diversity the length and breadth of the country.

Today we start to provide the policy framework to define our message. Arithmetically our argument for the independence #Supermajority is unassailable. More MSPs supporting independence – What’s not to like?

Of course some people say they don’t but why should colleagues not want there to be a supermajority- why would they rather that the indy numbers be lighter so that the Unionists numbers can be heavier. That is a ridiculous posturing for any independence supporter caused by the realisation that SNP votes on the regional list are the ultimate wasted votes.

Selections of Alex Salmond’s speech to Alba Supporters on 3rd April 2021
Kenny MacAskill was the former Justice Secretary of the Scottish Government.

His return quickly saw senior SNPs defect to the new party. These include Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey, both Westminster MPs, and the former SNP MP Corri Wilson. This means that the Alba Party currently have more MPs in Westminster than the Green Party.

The new party plans to run 32 candidates in the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, but importantly, only in some seats and deliberately not in others.

Scottish parliamentary elections are conducted using the Additional Member System. Under this system, a proportion of the seats (currently 73) are tied to a constituency, just like in UK General Elections. These seats are elected using the First Past The Post system. The remaining 56 seats make up 8 regional areas, each returning 7 MSPs.

The SNP have held a majority in the Scottish Parliament since 2011 and opinion polls show no signs of this abating:

Opinion Polling for the Scottish Parliament Elections – May 2016 to April 2021

Despite their personal antagonism, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have the same fundamental political goal – to see Scotland become an independent nation. The pressure on the British Government to call a second Scottish Independence Referendum will grow depending on the size of the independence movement in Scotland. The size of this movement is best judged by the number of elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament that hold this political position.

Importantly, if Alba were to run candidates for the constituency seats that are elected under FPTP, there would be a distinct danger that they would split the SNP vote and see less independence supporting MSPs returned to Holyrood. There are a number of seats under the constituency system that would be much more difficult for the SNP to win if another independence minded party competed for them. Examples of some of these seats include Moray and Dumbarton:

The SNP share of the vote went down by 11.7% in Moray in 2016 with the Conservatives putting pressure on the seat. This is a key Conservative target for 2021 and if Alba ran in the constituency and split the vote it would be at serious risk of falling to the Conservatives.

In the constituency of Dumbarton Labour held of the SNP by just 190 votes. This makes it a key target for the SNP to gain in the 2021 elections. If Alba ran in this constituency, they would likely preclude any possibility of the SNP taking the seat from Labour.

The regional seats for the Scottish Parliament are elected using the D’Hondt system, the same system that was used in European Elections in Britain from 1999 to 2019. Under this system, unlike STV, the voter only votes once on the regional ballot paper. However, there is a very important caveat to this system. The regional results are calculated to take into account the constituency results and to make the overall result more proportional. This means that any party that dominates under the FPTP proportion of the election is not able to do so under the regional system. This can be seen from the last two sets of results for the Scottish Parliament:

2011 – The SNP won 53 seats under First Past the Post with 902,915 votes. They also won the most votes in the regional list system with 876,421 votes. However, the calculation only awarded them 16 regional list seats, six less than Labour who won just 523,469 regional list votes.

2016 – The SNP won 59 seats under First Past the Post with 1,059,898 votes. They also won the most votes in the regional list system with 953,587 votes. However, the calculation only awarded them just 4 regional list seats, less than both the Conservatives and Labour.

So, in 2021, the message from Alex Salmond will be that those in support of independence should vote for the SNP in the constituency seats and for Alba in the regional seats. As he puts it, any vote for the SNP rather than Alba in the regional list system is a “wasted vote”. By doing this, Salmond believes the number of pro-independence MSPs elected to Holyrood can be maximized. A Sunday Times poll conducted on the 4th April have indicated that Alba could win 6% of the regional list votes and that this could push the combined seats of independence parties to nearly 80 out of 129.

Having stood on a manifesto to ‘Get Brexit Done’ it will be harder for the Conservatives to resist legtimate calls for a new Scottish independence referendum.

Scotland’s election in May 2021 is not just about the future of Scotland, it is arguably a proxy-vote for the future of the United Kingdom. An extension of the independence majority in Scotland will put increased pressure on the Westminster Government to allow a new Scottish independence referendum. It is important to remember that the current government campaigned to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – indicating the importance of accepting the will of the people on important constitutional issues.

It is fascinating to think that, despite the personal animosity that exists between them, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond are now in an electoral alliance – regardless of of the fact that it is one that Nicola Sturgeon would never have chosen.

The Scottish Parliamentary Elections of 2021, and their consequences, are going to be fascinating to watch.

1 thought on “Could two political enemies be about to exploit AMS to form a ‘supermajority for independence’?

  1. threewheelsonmywaggon

    If Nicola Sturgeon wishes to remain First Minister her first task will not be to ignore political parties of rivals within the parliament but accept the the wishes of the Scottish people who have elected them, be they Alba or anyone else. If she can not bring herself to do so then she must not be First Minister, “If you can not stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”

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    Reply

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