Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has launched a new political party, undermining the Scottish National party’s push for independence and opening a new front in his war with his SNP successor, Nicola Sturgeon.
Salmond’s rival pro-independence Alba party, named after the Scots Gaelic for Scotland, will contest seats in the Scottish parliament elections on May 6.
It pits Salmond, who quit as a member of the SNP after sexual harassment complaints were made against him, into competition with the party, now led by Sturgeon.
He said on Friday that Alba could help build a “supermajority” for independence at the May 6 elections.
“The tactics are to stand on the regional list to secure the supermajority for independence in our parliament,” Salmond told an online party launch.
But the SNP issued a sharp response to the Alba launch. “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.”
Salmond’s conduct “to put it mildly” raised “real questions about the appropriateness of a return to public office”, the party added.
The SNP is keen to maximise its vote in the Scottish parliament elections, in an effort to secure an overall majority on May 6 and then push for a referendum on independence.
Boris Johnson’s UK government in Westminster has refused to approve a rerun of the 2014 independence referendum, in which Scottish voters backed the union by 55 to 45 per cent.
But in a Financial Times op-ed, John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, said Scotland could not “be kept forever in an arrangement if her people wish to end it”.
“It is unwise to dismiss Scottish ambitions, or to delay any vote, without action to expose the reality of separation — and remedy shortcomings in the UK’s devolution settlement,” he said.
“The government must engage, encourage, examine and explore arrangements to emphasise the value of a UK working in harmony,” he added. “With facts and reason, it should be possible to persuade a majority of Scots that it is better to remain in the Union than to leave it.”
Salmond said the creation of Alba would aid the push for a second referendum. But analysts said it could make it more difficult for the SNP to win a majority in its own right on May 6 and thus weaken its hand against Johnson.
Salmond waved aside suggestions he was seeking to hurt the SNP. “We are not challenging the SNP in constituencies,” he said. “Our campaign . . . is going to be entirely positive.”
The Scottish parliament’s hybrid voting system is intended to make it more proportionally representative and give a presence to smaller parties that are unlikely to win in constituencies.
Constituency members of the parliament are elected using the first past the post voting system. Additional members are elected based on the proportion of list votes a party secures in larger regions.
Salmond’s rift with Sturgeon stems from a Scottish government investigation into complaints of sexual harassment against him by civil servants.
In 2019 the Scottish government was forced to concede in court that its probe into the complaints against Salmond had been unlawful because it was “procedurally unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
At a criminal trial last year, Salmond was acquitted of all 13 sexual offence charges against him.
Salmond last month accused Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code by misleading parliament about meetings in 2018 at which they discussed the harassment complaints against him by civil servants.
But last week James Hamilton, Sturgeon’s independent adviser, cleared her of breaching the code.
The Scottish Conservatives said right-thinking people would want nothing to do with Salmond or his new party “rabble”.
“Alex Salmond is a discredited figure who admitted appalling behaviour towards women during his time as SNP first minister,” said Douglas Ross, Scottish Tory leader.