Former first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond on Tuesday insisted Westminster opposition to independence for the country would crumble if his new Alba party helps win a Scottish parliamentary “supermajority” for leaving the UK at elections on May 6.
But at an online campaign event long on references to Scotland’s 14th century resistance to English kings but short on policy detail, Salmond declined to define what would constitute a supermajority in the 129-seat chamber at Holyrood in Edinburgh.
Two opinion polls conducted since Salmond launched Alba last month have painted a mixed picture of the prospects for the Scottish independence party. One by Survation for DC Thomson suggested the new party would struggle to take any seats in the Scottish parliament, while a second by Panelbase for the Sunday Times suggested it could win half a dozen.
Salmond said the plan to contest only the 56 “regional list” seats, decided by a form of proportional representation, in next month’s election, meant Alba could help ensure pro-independence candidates win a much bigger share of seats than the proportion of voters who want Scotland to leave the UK.
“The tactics will inevitably evolve with the negotiations but the strategy is to make the achievement of independence a real and overriding priority,” Salmond said. “With an independence supermajority, resistance from Westminster to Scotland’s renewed claim of right will crumble.”
But if the governing Scottish National party failed to win the vast majority of Holyrood’s 73 constituency seats, Alba could potentially undermine the SNP’s chances of winning a majority in its own right.
Some analysts said the lack of an SNP majority would actually reduce the pressure on UK prime minister Boris Johnson to approve a rematch of Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, in which voters backed staying in the union by 55-45 per cent. Johnson earlier this year said Westminster should not approve a second referendum until at least the 2050s.
Under 2016 devolution legislation, a supermajority in the Scottish parliament is required to change central aspects of Holyrood’s electoral system and is defined as two-thirds of the chamber, or 86 MSPs — well beyond what polls suggest is likely for pro-independence parties.
“That is not the definition of supermajority we are using,” Salmond told an online press conference, but declined to offer an alternative.
The former first minister also declined to give further detail of how Johnson might be forced to negotiate on independence. He said a 2014-style Westminster-approved referendum was one option but others might include “another democratic test”, legal action or peaceful demonstrations.
Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor as first minister and SNP leader, has warned that Alba’s approach could be seen as gaming Holyrood’s electoral system or even as cheating.
But Salmond suggested his former protégé — who he last month accused of breaching Scotland’s ministerial code and of presiding over a failure of national leadership — would be willing to work together with him after the election. “I know that Nicola will be able to put national above personal,” he said.
The SNP said Salmond’s approach was not “in any way credible”.
“This kind of nonsense will only make winning independence harder,” the party said. “This election is a choice between those who offer serious leadership capable of delivering and those who want to indulge in deceptively simple answers to difficult challenges.”
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader, said the new Alba party was only interested in “another damaging [and] divisive independence referendum”, adding: “Whether it’s Alex Salmond’s nationalists or Nicola Sturgeon’s nationalists, it’s clear what their priority is.”
The Conservatives are the second biggest party in the Scottish parliament with 30 seats, just under half of the 61 held by the SNP, which leads a minority government. The Scottish Greens hold five seats, which means the pro-independence parties in the chamber currently hold a majority.
Scottish Labour, which has 23 MSPs, said Salmond’s call for negotiations on independence to start in the first week after the May 6 election was “an insult to all those jobs and livelihoods that are still at risk” from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nicola Sturgeon cannot endorse this extreme approach to the constitution and needs to be clear that she will not bulldoze this through the parliament with an ugly allegiance with Salmond’s Alba party,” said Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour deputy leader.