Former first minister Alex Salmond shook the Holyrood election campaign and handed SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon a major problem with a surprise bid to return to Holyrood.
He revealed his intentions, and appealed for funds, during an online launch peppered with technical glitches and showcasing fringe figures who used the opportunity to rail at sections of the media.
Mr Salmond framed the entire Alba Party project as a way of getting a “supermajority” for independence – and questioned the need for a referendum.
“We think it’ll be more difficult for Boris Johnson to say no to a parliament rather than a party,” he said.
“A substantial majority of MSPs across a range of parties supporting independence, then that is a very powerful position to start independence negotiations.”
‘Obscured by self-interest’
The SNP reacted with a withering put-down.
“At this time of crisis, the interests of the country must come first and should not be obscured by the self-interest of someone who shows no sign whatsoever of reflecting on serious concerns about his own conduct – concerns which, to put it mildly, raise real questions about the appropriateness of a return to public office,” the SNP said in a statement.
Mr Salmond has been locked in a bitter feud with his former deputy, Ms Sturgeon, over the handling of harassment allegations made against him when in office.
He won a judicial review after challenging that process and he was cleared of separate criminal allegations in court.
It appeared the fight had been dampened after a series of investigations concluded this week. Ms Sturgeon was cleared of claims she broke the government code of conduct during the complaint process.
But now, one day after the election campaign began, the two veteran nationalists could be on course to re-enter parliament together.
It also splits a crowded field of minor parties putting independence front and centre.
However, within hours one such party, Action for Independence, led by former Highlands SNP MSP Dave Thompson, announced it was standing down all its 42 candidates following the launch of Alba.
There are no questions about Scotland’s future to which Alex Salmond is the answer.”
Alistair Carmichael MP
‘A discredited figure’
Opposition parties pounced on the opportunity.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Alex Salmond is a discredited figure who admitted appalling behaviour towards women during his time as SNP First Minister and right-thinking people will want nothing to do with him or his new party.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The people of Scotland deserve so much better than the score settling and old politics that the SNP and Tories are offering.”
Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “There are no questions about Scotland’s future to which Alex Salmond is the answer.”
The Scottish Green Party has relied on a competitive list system for all its previously elected members.
A party spokesman said: “This election should be about putting forward a positive vision for Scotland’s future, not settling personal vendettas.
“This public meltdown is all about the fragile ego of a man disgraced by his own behaviour.”
The voting system is set up in two parts in Scotland. MSPs are elected in first-past-the-post constituencies but also in proportionately allocated regions based on parties rather than candidates.
Mr Salmond urged voters to give both votes to the SNP in the 2016 Holyrood election. But he now says this is a “waste”.
The ex-leader was beaten in the 2017 Westminster election, after a run of nine successful contests.
Asked what he could offer voters in the north-east, other than a campaign for independence, he told us there are “enormous issues” with the fishing sector, the impact of Brexit and the oil economy.
He drew on his previous battles with Donald Trump on the transition from fossil fuels, saying “rather more” needs to be done in the shift to renewables.
He added: “The announcement about John Lewis in Aberdeen is an illustration of the great challenges that we’re going to face and huge importance of the ideas the Alba party – and I’m sure others – will bring forward for economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Mr Salmond said Holyrood could end up with as many as 90 pro-independence MSPs out of 129.
Across the country, Alba Party candidates include Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny, who announced his defection from the SNP at the start of Friday’s launch, and Mid Scotland and Fife candidate Eva Comrie, who abandoned the SNP’s regional list.
Ultimately, it was an open call to rally to the flag. Mr Salmond declared: “Today, Alba is hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill. In the next few weeks, we’ll see how many will rally to our standard.”