Alex Salmond claims he is willing to “put the past behind him” and work with former ally Nicola Sturgeon, amid the backdrop of two MPs quitting the SNP to join the newly-formed Alba Party.
The former first minister said “heavy odds” are on Ms Sturgeon leading the government after the May 6 Holyrood election because the SNP are likely to “sweep the country as far as the constituency ballot is concerned”.
In an interview with Times Radio on Sunday, Mr Salmond said “people who have differences have to sink their differences”, adding he was “well prepared to do that”.
His remarks come after two of the SNP’s MPs – Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey – announced they had quit the party and would stand as candidates for the Alba Party, led by the former SNP leader.
Two Aberdeenshire councillors – Leigh Wilson and Alastair Bews – have also joined the Alba Party, after quitting the SNP last summer citing personal reasons.
Mr Salmond unveiled his new pro-independence party, which will contest May’s Holyrood elections, with a claim that it could build “a supermajority for independence”.
“When the future of the country is at stake you have to put the past behind you and campaign for the future”, Mr Salmond told Times Radio.
“Some things are a lot bigger than personalities or individual disagreements and the future of a country is certainly one of these.”
However, Ms Sturgeon revealed she is over her “personal grief” at the loss of the relationship with her former ally because “he has behaved in a way that has piled more suffering onto women who believed they had already suffered at his hands”.
In the Scotland on Sunday interview, she said “serious questions have been raised about the appropriateness of his behaviour towards women”, which she claims “raises real questions about the appropriateness of any return to public office”.
“The good thing about (Salmond) now having his own party, is I don’t have to spend much time talking about him or thinking about him anymore”, she said.
Mr Salmond, who is standing for election in the north-east region, said he is “not going to say a word in this campaign denigrating the SNP” and claimed support for his party “strengthens the first minister’s hands in negotiations with Westminster”.
On the defection of two SNP’s MPs to his party, Mr Salmond said he would “hope that every Scottish nationalist in Westminster is looking forward to transferring to the Scottish Parliament”.
He added it is “quite reasonable that Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey think that’s going to be within this term of the parliament given the political opportunity we now sense”.
Mr Salmond said: “It’s important that Alba builds as a political party and has a calibre of candidates that people recognise because that helps reinforce the opportunity and demonstrates that we’re not launching this Alba Party as a one man band but it’s actually an orchestra of different talents and different abilities that will be extraordinarily attractive to the people of Scotland.”
Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was branded an “embarassment” by the SNP after quitting the party on Saturday to join the Alba Party.
The MP for East Lothian, who intends to stand on the Lothian list, wrote an open letter to party members on Saturday on his decision.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said the independence movement is a “broad church and is not simply the SNP”.
He argued the party on its own had “failed to achieve a majority in 2016, Alba Party can ensure there is an independence majority in 2021” and will “not be beholden to the SNP”.
Mr MacAskill, who confirmed he would not be standing down to allow a by-election for his Westminster constituency, said: “We certainly stand to campaign for independence and we certainly stand to campaign for the radical tradition and radical policies that the SNP used to, and I believe in many instances still, support.”
Neale Hanvey, the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, was hot on the heels of Mr MacAskill and revealed he had quit the SNP to join Mr Salmond’s party on Sunday.
Mr Hanvey, who was suspended for six months by the SNP ahead of the general election in 2019 over anti-Semitic Facebook posts, will stand as a list MSP in Mid Scotland and Fife.
In a statement, he said he shares the “frustration of many who feel the aspirations of the independence movement are being ignored”.
He added: “The Alba Party provide a tonic for our movement with an unashamedly optimistic vision for Scotland’s impending transition to an independent European nation.”
Other figures to leave the party over the weekend are former Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock SNP MP Corri Wilson who has joined the Alba Party, and will stand on the South of Scotland list.
Lynn Anderson, the SNP’s equalities convener and North Lanarkshire councillor, has also joined the Alba Party.
Alba ‘could deprive SNP of majority’
Scotland’s top polling expert, Professor John Curtice, said Alex Salmond’s new party could deprive the SNP of a majority and damage Nicola Sturgeon’s chances of securing a second independence referendum.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Prof Curtice said: “Although the party won only a handful of list seats in 2016 – and, according to the current polls, the same could happen again – the polls also suggest that the SNP only have a 50-50 chance of winning an overall majority and the two or three list seats they might win could make all the difference.”
It emerged on Sunday that supporters of Alex Salmond’s new party have had details hacked from its website.
The Alba Party was alerted to a potential breach of the names of those supporting its events on the site, the day after its launch.
It claims this was the only detail to be hacked and users can be “confident” the site is now secure and has informed the Information Commissioner’s Office of the action.