New Nats on the Block

LET’S TRY AGAIN: Alex Salmond unveils his new party’s first manifesto.

Alex Salmond spoke at the manifesto launch for his new Alba Party on April 21, 2021. This is the text of my Scottish Daily Mail sketch of the speech. 


Alba, a party which has had a reception only slightly warmer than the European Super League, launched its manifesto yesterday. ‘Launched’, with its connotations of rockets blasting off into space, may not be the most apt term for an event that lasted exactly 4 minutes and 46 seconds.

Given one of the party’s pledges is to set up a second Scottish Parliament chamber comprising 100 people plucked off the street, it’s fair to say Alba is already in another galaxy.

Speaking from Ellon, Alex Salmond pulled out a copy of the manifesto, complete with a cover photo of a dripping-wet dog shaking itself dry. Nicola Sturgeon famously has a phobia of dogs. The document bears the legend: ’Shake Things Up’.

‘A highly appropriate title for the new kid on the block, the plucky underdog of Scottish politics,’ said Salmond, First Minister of Scotland (2007-2014), SNP leader (1990-2000, 2004-2014), MP (1987-2010, 2015-2017). Then again, he might have been comparing Alba to New Kids on the Block, an Eighties pop quintet also known as NKOTB. A similar word often comes to mind when I think of Salmond.

He restated the raison d’etre of the party: ‘We were established to bring urgency into the timetable for delivering independence for Scotland by maximising the list vote to build a pro-independence supermajority at Holyrood and to use our place as part of that supermajority to make sure there’s absolutely no more backsliding on timetables.’

This was a none-too-subtle jab at Sturgeon, who is seen as too gun-shy (or perhaps too claymore-shy) in her approach to indyref2. In fact, the launch speech contained the most explicit threats so far to make life difficult for the SNP, with Salmond describing Alba’s mission as ‘pressuring a pro-independence Scottish Government to get a move on and holding it to account if it doesn’t’. The party was, as he put it, ‘standing to be in a position to push the government further than they would otherwise go’.

No wonder the Nationalists are blanketing Facebook with adverts showing how ‘both votes SNP’ could have won them a (bare) majority in 2016. You don’t need to have put in a shift at Bletchley Park to break that particular code: the SNP would rather be governing with a precarious majority than have the backing of Salmond and half a dozen of his mates.

Despite the emphasis on the constitution, ‘that doesn’t mean Alba are a single-issue party,’ he said, standing in front of a backdrop that read ‘Alba… for the independence supermajority’. No, technically they’re a single-ego party. Five thousand had joined up so far because they wanted to see ‘more courage and less caution’ at Holyrood. Courage is climbing Everest; caution is knowing not to try doing it on a pogo stick.

Alba’s programme was for ‘a Scotland where the search for equality is reconciled with hard-won women’s sex-based rights’, he said, in a nod to the SNP’s gender identity wars. In fact, the manifesto had given ‘the strongest commitment to women’s rights’ of any of the parties. It was even, he ventured, ‘social democratic’. Alex Salmond claiming to be a social democrat is the most daring self-identification of all. He’s a tax-cutting former oil economist. His pronouns are: IMF and RBS.

‘In Alba’s short life, we’ve already held three policy conferences, he chuckled to himself with immense satisfaction.

This was the tone for much of the presentation: the phoney bonhomie of a Seventies game show host unveiling your big prize — a self-catering weekend in Bognor Regis and a constitutional convention on Scotland. A sparser, almost menacing, tenor crept in during swipes at Sturgeon so obvious they could have been accompanied by canned booing.

Thus was Alba’s plan for ‘an ambitious and radical Scotland that doesn’t just set targets but takes real steps forward’. The prospectus he was presenting was ‘the one manifesto that is taking Scottish independence seriously, with urgency, with a proper plan on how to deliver independence for Scotland through a referendum or another agreed democratic test’. For a man who was waxing yesterday about how much he ‘loves’ the SNP, he was getting in a power of digs at the party and its leader.

‘With this manifesto,’ he beamed, having reverted to Affable Eck, ‘everyone can see the direction we hope to urge Scotland’. Peer into the near distance and you can make out the contour of a cliff edge.

From Aberdeenshire to the Lowlands, where Salmond kicked off Alba’s Central Scotland campaign at the Falkirk Wheel, the boat lift that services the agreeably named Union Canal. The Wheel is a grand feat of modern engineering and, at 115ft in height, almost as towering as Alex Salmond’s self-regard.


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

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