Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The Alba Party is a new, pro-independence party lead by Alex Salmond and, on the face of it, it looks like a direct rival to the SNP. However, the purpose of the Alba Party (‘Alba’ meaning ‘Scotland’ in Gaelic) is not to split the nationalist vote between the SNP and the Alba Party, but to increase the mandate for independence. Rather than threatening the SNP, the Alba Party sees itself as a threat to Westminster. Though, of course, how threatening Salmond is to Westminster remains to be seen.
There are signs that the Alba Party is a front for an Alex Salmond ego trip. Salmond has evidently resented his time in court, and has resented his former deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, even more for her actions during his trial. Even though Salmond has been acquitted, there still appears to be bad blood between the pair, prompting speculation that the formation of the Alba Party is symptomatic of a fracturing in the nationalist movement.
It is very difficult to tell what the relationship between the SNP and the Alba Party is, or will be. Some newspapers have likened it to a civil war in the nationalist movement, while according to Salmond himself the relationship will be cooperative. In fact, Salmond has endorsed Nicola Sturgeon to remain as First Minister, and has said that he hopes the SNP will win a clear majority in the upcoming Scottish election. On the face of it, the differences between the parties seem minor. The Alba Party is obviously the smaller of the two and is less well organised. And much like many of the spontaneous political parties that have sprung up over the last few years, the Alba Party appears another one-policy party, designed only so that Salmond can achieve his ‘supermajority’.
This ‘supermajority’ is the founding premise of the Alba Party’s existence. Essentially, it is a bid to gain more seats in the Scottish Parliament for the pro-independence movement. Currently, the SNP is the only pro-independence party, and because of the Additional Member Systemused in Scottish elections, the second vote often goes to a unionist party. The introduction of a second pro-independence party allows the voter to vote for two pro-independence parties, hence will possibly create a ‘supermajority’ in favour of independence.
What is curious is the lack of media attention. There was far more attention on Sturgeon a few weeks back when calls of her to resign as First Minister, over Salmond’s trial presented the slight possibility of toppling Sturgeon. Certain newspapers seems keen to show Sturgeon struggling (contrary to the Daily Mail, the SNP does not appear ‘rocked’ by the few defections to the Alba Party) though Sturgeon looks set for winning another majority in the next election.
Does it make Scottish independence more likely? With a year focused on the pandemic, Johnson has ignored any growing Scottish impatience with the union. With the Alba Party working in tandem with the SNP, Johnson might not be able to ignore the independence question for much longer.