Alex Salmond is misleading voters by suggesting there is a way to “trick our way to independence”, Nicola Sturgeon has said as she again described her predecessor’s new party as an attempt to game the Holyrood voting system.
Salmond launched the Alba party last Friday with the express strategy of winning a “pro-independence super-majority” in May’s Holyrood elections. He has suggested his plan is complimentary to the SNP, which has been predicted its own simple majority in a number of recent polls. Sturgeon said the new political enterprise was “not a friendly gesture”.
The SNP leader told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The only way to make sure you get the government you want is to vote for the party that will be that government. Anything else is trying to gamble with the system, game the system, take a chance on the outcome of the election.”
The former first minister has argued that, while the SNP is expected to win the majority of constituency seats, it is a “waste” voting for them on the regional list system, which is designed to make the seat distribution more representative of the overall vote. Alba is only standing candidates on the regional lists.
But Sturgeon argued: “There are two things that are required to win independence – firstly a simple majority in the Scottish parliament that can bring about an independence referendum and then crucially, the most important thing of all, is that we win a majority amongst the Scottish population for independence and anyone who tries to suggest there is a shortcut to that or that we can somehow game or trick our way to independence is frankly misleading people.”
At Alba’s launch on Friday, Salmond suggested there were alternatives to holding a referendum with powers transferred from Westminster – something that Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will refuse to do regardless of the outcome of the Scottish parliament elections on 6 May – including “plebiscite, international legal action, peaceful street demonstrations, popular will”.
Sturgeon told the BBC: “It’s got to be through a process that is not just legitimate but seen to be legitimate so it can command respect and authority at home and internationally as well”.
Asked whether defections from her party to Alba, which have included two sitting MPs, were a result of her dragging her heels, Sturgeon responded that support for independence under her leadership was higher than it’s ever been and that “one of the prerequisites of winning and delivering independence is that you build sustained majority support”.
Asked about timing for holding a second vote, she used to caveat that “if we are out of the Covid crisis, then I would want to see an independence referendum in the first half of this parliament”.
On Thursday morning, Salmond suggested a BBC committment to treat his new Alba party fairly was an April fool after being repeatedly challenged in a radio interview about his attitude towards women.
Scotland’s former first minister was asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme presenter Mishal Husain whether he had learned from the past after admitting inappropriate behaviour towards women.
Salmond rejected the offer to show contrition and instead challenged Husain’s questions and the BBC.
Husain pointed out that, Gordon Jackson, who defended Salmond at his sexual assault trial in March 2020 after which he was cleared of all charges had been reportedly overheard on a train describing his client as “sex pest”.
Salmond said: “The BBC shouldn’t really repeat things that they’ve read in the papers and things like that.” He pointed out that Jackson had later clarified that he did not regard Salmond as a sex pest.
Asked again to reflect on his behaviour towards women, which by his own admission included “a sleepy cuddle” with a junior colleague and stroking a woman’s face while she slept, Salmond said: “Most fair minded people will accept the verdict of a jury.
“My behaviour was tested as probably no behaviour has been tested before in a trial of my peers in the high court.”
Salmond also said he had seen a letter dated on Thursday, from the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, giving assurances about impartial coverage to his party in the upcoming elections in Scotland.
He said: “All programmes will get a letter from the director general this morning, assuring me that the Alba party will get fair and reasonable coverage from the BBC. I thought that’s absolutely perfect, then of course I noted the date on the letter.”
Earlier on Thursday, the former Ukip and Brexit party leader Nigel Farage told the Times that Salmond could deliver a “breakthrough” for independence by appealing to Scottish leave voters. “If Alex moves the policy programme on to negotiations about an independent Scotland aligned to a UK single market, as opposed to Nicola’s EU single market … then I think that will be the game-changer going into this Holyrood election.”
Separately, Kenny MacAskill, the former SNP MP and one of the first defectors to Alba, told the Times that the new party’s policy on Europe would not mirror that of the SNP, which has always been highly critical of Brexit and its consequences.