It was always obvious that Alex Salmond wasn’t going to stand for one of the existing minor parties. He was always going to set up a new party that he could be the undisputed leader of. We can at least be grateful for the small mercy that he has called upon his supporters to vote SNP in the constituency vote despite the best efforts of some of the more trenchant critics of Nicola Sturgeon who spoke at the launch of the new Alba party to get him to say otherwise. However this new party has got SNP spoiler written all over it, and for all the talk of winning a super-majority for independence in the Holyrood elections in May, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Alex Salmond’s true goal is to deprive Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP of winning an overall majority by themselves and so having to rely on Alex Salmond’s party in order to ensure that pro-independence majority.
This new party may succeed in its aim of boosting the total number of pro-independence MSPs, but it is just as possible that Alex Salmond has over-estimated his own popularity and will only succeed in splitting the pro-independence vote and allowing opponents of independence to slip in under the wire because the pro-indy vote on the list is now split between the SNP, the Greens and Alex Salmond’s new vehicle. The events of recent months have done considerable damage to the reputation of a man who was already the marmite of Scottish politics. I am not sure that he really appreciates that.
I am not denigrating the undoubted political talents of Alex Salmond, but he is not infallible. This new party is a dangerous tactic typical of a gambler, and moreover one from a man who despite his undoubted contribution to advancing the cause of independence has in the past made a number of unforced tactical and strategic errors, the consequences of which still dog the independence movement today. Time will tell whether this will prove to be another one, I genuinely hope it’s not. It’s all very well choosing to gamble with your own political career, however it is another level of hubris entirely when you choose to gamble with what is our best and potentially only chance of winning independence for decades to come. If this gamble fails, he risks going down in history as the man who threw away our best chance of independence because of his ego and his resentments.
It’s because of Alex Salmond’s unnecessary rhetorical flourishes that we currently labour under a Conservative administration which constantly throws the once in a generation line back in our faces, allowing them to stand in the way of the will of the people of Scotland while hiding behind a convenient fig leaf of an excuse which disguises their true anti-democratic nature. It’s because Alex Salmond made a needless political error of judgement that we are constantly fending off the what currency will you use question from opponents of independence. In no other country seeking independence is the question of currency pivotal in the independence debate, but it is in Scotland because of Alex Salmond’s decision to say he wanted a post-independence currency union with the rest of the UK. He created a huge open goal for the Better Together campaign because in effect he was saying,”Westminster we want independence from you, but hey, we want you to cooperate with us on on this key aspect of our economic policy.” Of course the Westminster parties were going to take advantage of this open goal by saying no, and they have continued to take advantage of the doubt and confusion it created ever since.
True leadership sometimes means swallowing personally unpalatable truths for the greater good. That’s a test that Alex Salmond has failed. To say that I am saddened and disappointed by a man who was once a huge personal hero is something of an understatement. A true leader would have said to all the pro-independence critics of the SNP : “This isn’t about me, I am prepared to lay to one side my misgivings and disappointment in the current leadership of the SNP in the name of securing a solid SNP majority in these crucial elections which lie ahead, and building a secure and stable platform from which to wrest another referendum from Westminster. If I can do that, so can you.”
But that’s not what he has done. Instead he has created a vehicle in which he personally can be the dominant force, making it look as though he is prioritising his own needs and interests. The biggest danger is that by creating a credible pro-independence list party, he gives succour to those critics of the SNP who are looking for an excuse not to vote SNP in the constituency vote. Some of them may now be more likely to assuage their fears of a British nationalist winning by telling themselves that even though they are boycotting the SNP in the constituency vote they are still casting a pro-independence vote in the list. However the Alba party’s strategy to maximise the independence vote can only succeed if the SNP manage to hoover up almost all the available constituency seats. That in turn will only be sucessful if Alex Salmond can rein in the vociferously anti-SNP element among his supporters and encourage them not to undermine the SNP’s support in the constituency vote – and ideally to work to maximise the SNP vote in the constituencies. Given that the press conference announcing the launch of this new party prominently featured the toxic Stuart Campbell, who remained eager to use the occasion to get a few digs in at the SNP’s expense, the signs of this happening are not good, and raises additional questions about Alex Salmond’s judgement.
It was already difficult for the average voter to make a principled decision about tactical voting on the list in the Additional Member System used for Holyrood elections. Now instead of weighing up a decision about whether it is better to vote SNP on the list or the Greens, discounting for the time being minor parties which gain no traction, the pro-independence voter is faced with a three way choice, and the chances of an anti-independence candidate managing to slip in due to a divided pro-independence vote are consequently magnified. Now instead of simple slogan SNP 1& 2 the voter needs to be guided by a complex formula which will differ in different areas and which in any case will not become apparent until immediately before the vote, by which time it’s too late to get the message out. I sincerely hope that this unecessary gamble succeeds and produces a healthy pro-independence majority, but I fear today’s development will make that harder, not easier, to achieve. For that reason It’s still SNP 1 & 2 for me.
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