Epic Gael

Alex Salmond announced his candidacy for the Holyrood elections on March 26, 2021, for the Alba Party. This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of the launch. 

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There are a fair few nationalists who believe the British state works to undermine Scottish independence, and a fair few Unionists who believe it ought to. But you have to wonder whether it would be worth MI5’s time when nationalists do such a good job themselves.

Alex Salmond is back — apparently, at some point, he went away — and, in a bid to return to Holyrood, is heading up a band of awkward misfits hoping to overcome their status as political outcasts. Like the Goonies gone wrong. Very wrong. 

The SNP was never big enough to contain Salmond’s ego, so now he has built an extension of sorts in the form of Alba, which will be contesting the Holyrood election for the votes of people with giant Saltires tied to their car aerials.

Salmond kept pronouncing it ‘Ahl-bah’. My Gaelic education extends to darting for the remote whenever the Nineties Hebridean soap Machair came on STV, but even I know it’s ‘Al-a-buh’. Nicola Sturgeon may not have been best-pleased by yesterday’s development but Kate Forbes will have been fizzing.

Salmond has had more comebacks than Tina Turner but this gig was more washout than Wembley. The launch was streamed on YouTube from what appeared to be the Blue Peter broom cupboard. The camera-work was shakier than the San Francisco earthquake and Salmond loomed ominously in semi-darkness thanks to low-watt lighting. Maybe they were getting their pitch to Green voters in early.

An ageing Eck declared Alba the only path to ‘an independence supermajority’ and pledged that every candidate would ‘live and breathe independence’. Going by the launch, I’d keep the oxygen on stand-by. While he underscored Alba was ‘not out to become a governing party’ – I doubt that’ll be a problem – he did say a referendum was ‘by no means the only route’ for leaving the UK. There is a section of the SNP core vote that, whatever they think of Salmond, will be tempted by such talk.

Three defections were unveiled, two females and one male, and the women went first, which was hardly subtle. None was a household name, even in their own houses, but Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny was hitherto a fixture on the Twitter wing of the SNP. He spoke of the importance of Scotland having a say over ‘wir own future’ before chirping ‘back over to you, Alec’, like the most demented episode of Richard and Judy you ever saw. 

Salmond teed-up a cheery promotional video, replete with whooshing helicopter shots, but 30 seconds in, the stream cut back to him. He stood there grimacing like a wombat that had stood on a Lego and was trying not to show it. Off camera, there was the distinct screech of a door being opened. The emergency exit, no doubt. It was the Khrushchev speech directed in the style of Carry On Up the Khyber.

The press conference portion of the event was conducted via Zoom and the zoomers were in plentiful supply. In addition to TV reporters, newspaper hacks and the main pro-independence blogger, there was a rabble of Salmond fan-boys whose purpose seemed to be tending his ego. He was congratulated by these lapdog scribblers on having set up his new party, even as mainstream journalists were denounced for asking tough questions of their hero. 

One used his allotted question to grouse, among other things, about some SNP politicians having blocked him on social media. Another gurned and gasped and shook his head at every adversarial query, like a K-pop stan encountering someone who thinks BTS are just okay. 

For giving Salmond a particularly fierce grilling, a correspondent from The Herald was branded part of ‘the Right-wing media’, which will be news to the Leftish broadsheet’s right-on readers.

There was little policy, but digs at divisive stances taken by Sturgeon. Asked by a Spanish journalist about his party’s stance on gender self-identification, Salmond had concerns about women’s ‘sex-based rights to private spaces’.

He said Alba was ‘hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill’. If I was Mountain Rescue, I’d expect a call.

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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol] dailymail.co.uk.

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