Yesterday, former SNP leader Alex Salmond announced the creation of a new pro-independence party which will contest the Scottish Parliament election. The new Alba Party aims to stand at least 32 regional list candidates in the May 6 elections with the goal of winning a “supermajority” of pro-independence MPs at Holyrood. The former first minister said he would be among the candidates who will stand for the Alba Party on regional lists.
In an online address, Mr Salmond declared: “Today, Alba is hoisting a flag in the wind, planting a saltire on a hill. In the next few weeks, we’ll see how many will rally to our standard.”
The initiative was dismissed officially by the SNP, which branded it an act of “self-interest” by the former first minister, who has been embroiled in a bitter feud with Nicola Sturgeon over her handling of harassment complaints against him.
Ms Sturgeon is keen to maximise her party’s vote in the Scottish elections, in an effort to secure an overall majority and then push for a second referendum on independence.
While Mr Salmond insists Alba will not be a threat to the SNP, analysts say it could make it more difficult for the SNP to win a majority in its own right and thus weaken its hand against Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The announcement also comes at a difficult time for the First Minister, whose party already started splitting at the end of last year.
In December, more than 20 activists, councillors and MPs critical of Ms Sturgeon’s leadership and her policies on independence, the economy and transgender rights were elected to the party’s national executive as office bearers and ruling committees.
The SNP leader reportedly “didn’t see it coming”.
Sources in the party, including those involved with the national executive committee (NEC), believed their election would have led to a number of overt and more subtle challenges to the First Minister and her policies before the elections.
In particular, sources claimed they were expected to include supporting Mr Salmond’s return to the SNP; pressing for the party to legally challenge the UK government if it blocked a second independence referendum; and helping candidates critical of party leaders win prominent positions in the list rankings for the Holyrood election.
For the first time in recent SNP history, two groups put up organised lists of candidates – the SNP Common Weal group, a coalition of leftwing activists who accuse Ms Sturgeon of over-centralising power, and Women’s Pledge, senior figures critical of official policy on gender recognition.
Their gains caused discontent among prominent supporters of Ms Sturgeon’s leadership, as they believed the rebels only used the row over transgender rights to undermine her authority.
Former deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman said transgender legal reform was “a convenient issue and a convenient group of already excluded people who can be thrown under a bus in order for the massively successful SNP leadership to be undermined by a small group”.
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That was denied by one new NEC member, who said: “This is not about getting Alex Salmond back into politics nor is it anti-Nicola.
“Leading our agenda is democratising the party, improving governance and developing a better strategy on independence.”
Moreover, Stewart Stevens, an MSP for 20 years and one of Mr Salmond’s closest friends, was elected as the SNP’s new national secretary.
Three new national office-bearers – the party’s treasurer Douglas Chapman, equalities convenor Lynne Anderson and policy convenor Chris Hanlon – signed the Common Weal group’s manifesto for democracy calling for greater accountability and “putting members back into the heart of the party”.
Mr Hanlon defeated Alyn Smith, a prominent MP, former MEP and Ms Sturgeon loyalist.
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One former NEC member said the results had sent shockwaves through the party hierarchy.
They said: “They didn’t see it coming.
“This is the party’s Brexit vote.”
Another activist said: “There’s an alliance of people who are all discontented with Nicola Sturgeon and they’re all discontented for different reasons … We’re starting to look a bit like the Labour Party.”
However the claims have been rejected by SNP sources.
One said only a very small percentage of party members voted.
The source added: “Any deductions drawn from the make-up [of these bodies] are overblown.
“We’re aware that there’s a change, but there’s no panic buttons being pressed.
“They may have influence, but they don’t have power.”