Glasgow, Scotland – Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced the creation of a new party that will stand in Scottish parliamentary elections in May.
Salmond, who led the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) to two consecutive election victories at the Scottish Parliament, in 2007 and 2011, said the party would aim to build a “supermajority” for independence from the United Kingdom.
The Alba Party is expected to field candidates across every part of Scotland, on the so-called regional lists, and is sure to cause unease among the SNP’s current leadership.
The move comes a year after Salmond was acquitted on charges of sexual assault.
The veteran politician, who stood down from his roles as first minister and leader of the SNP in 2014 after losing in that year’s Scottish independence referendum, found himself fighting for his reputation – and freedom – after he was accused of sexually assaulting a number of women during his premiership.
He resigned from the SNP in August 2018, and had a spectacular falling out with his party protege and Scotland’s current first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Her government admitted acting unlawfully while probing abuse claims against Salmond, who was found innocent of all charges by a jury at an Edinburgh court in March 2020.
Earlier this week, Sturgeon herself was cleared of breaching the Scottish ministerial code over her own involvement in the Salmond affair.
“I think this was nearly always inevitable or was one of the most likely outcomes,” political analyst Gerry Hassan told Al Jazeera, noting that Salmond still enjoys some support from many pro-independence voters.
“His reputation has been trashed, he cannot be controlled or [be held] accountable to anyone, and therefore that makes him a free agent or a dangerous uncontrollable missile.”
Supporters of Scottish independence were polarised over Salmond’s announcement, with many SNP loyalists, on social media, urging their voters to keep faith with the party, which has a huge lead in the opinion polls over its pro-UK rivals.
But one popular pro-independence blogger, James Kelly, told Al Jazeera that he was “encouraged by” the 66-year-old’s wish to re-enter Scottish politics. Salmond announced that, as leader of the Alba Party, he wanted “to build a supermajority for independence in the Scottish Parliament” and Kelly argued that his inclusion was a positive step.
“Mr Salmond is a relentlessly positive campaigner, so I don’t think he’ll waste any time attacking the SNP or Nicola Sturgeon,” he said. “I just hope the SNP leadership are sensible enough to return the favour.”
While Sturgeon will not relish Salmond’s active participation in front-line politics – their relationship is said to have irretrievably broken down, and she will likely be concerned that his party will split SNP votes and encourage political defections – the one-time leader of the SNP is also taking a gamble.
Should his new movement perform poorly in the parliamentary election, then his long-time political career could come to a humiliating end.
“He’s massively unpopular with Scottish public opinion,” said Hassan. “But, of course, he may be able … to get elected.”
Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi