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There is no decent place to stand in a massacre

Updated: Jul 6

The independence movement fared badly in the General Election 2024 and while much will be written about the failings of the SNP. It is important not to forget the ALBA party and the reasons why they have been unable to make an impact. 

The ALBA Party’s average vote in the election was 1.5% across 19 candidates.  Every candidate lost their deposit. 

For comparison, at the 2021 Holyrood Election the ALBA list vote was 1.7%. In the 2022 Local Authority Elections the average ALBA first preference vote was 1.8%. 

There has been no discernible progress in three years. 

We must ask - Why? Why isn't Alba a success? 

The ALBA Party have had every advantage; two MPs, an MSP, a number of councillors and a leader who is a former First Minister able to garner media spots and column inches. The party leadership have regular articles in the National.  ALBA have a reasonable income including £290k from the electoral commission, many large donors and, thousands of members.  ALBA have been able to employ five members of staff. 

The SNP are discredited and waning. The SNP problems did not start with the loss of thirty nine seats, their problems have been building over the last three years.  It has been the ideal time for an alternative independence party to rise.  So why is Alba failing so badly?  Three years without progress. 

In the months leading up to the ALBA launch the independence movement had realised that, with the SNP winning in the constituencies, the Holyrood system could be exploited by a pro-independence list party.  The idea had been floated by RISE in 2016 but didn’t catch on then but in ‘21 it looked like an idea whose time had come. 

Two list parties had been registered Action for Independence (AFI) and Independence for Scotland Party (ISP).  After Alba launched the two nascent list parties stood their candidates down to give ALBA a free run. 

Meanwhile, the activist wing of the SNP was becoming disillusioned by the lack of progress on independence and the SNP's promotion of gender ideology. And concerns over SNP finances had started to bubble up.  

The ‘Good Guys’ campaign got pro-independence; gender realists elected to the SNP NEC.  However, the ‘Good Guys’ encountered marginalisation on the NEC as the Sturgeon leadership pushed back.  

Online the story was of SNP corruption and greed, their destruction of women’s rights, their abandonment of independence. This portrayal of the SNP has continued and been given substance in the intervening years and likely contributed to the SNP seat loss. 

The launch of ALBA attracted prominent independence activists and many of the ‘Good Guys’ from the SNP. The rationale was the SNP were unsavable and ALBA was offering independence and women’s rights. 

Many of the strongest independence activists moved to ALBA. But, some became disillusioned with ALBA and left, some were forced out, and a few were expelled, despite Salmond being openly against expulsions while leader of the SNP.  Today few of the ex-SNP ‘Good Guys’ or founder activists remain in ALBA.  Many are lost to the independence cause. 

For all of ALBA’s existence, the same people have led ALBA; Alex Salmond (Leader); Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Chair appointed by Salmond); Chris McEleny (General Secretary appointed by Salmond).  

ALBA has come to be defined in two ways: as ‘Alex Salmond’s ALBA Party’, and as a surrogate for the SNP of old.  

ALBA seems to understand itself only with reference to the SNP. The ALBA strategic initiatives involve the SNP and require their tacit cooperation, or at least not open hostility, to succeed. 

  • The 'SNP 1 ALBA 2' Scottish Parliament election strategy.   

  • The 'Scotland United' General Election strategy; the pro-independence parties get together and stand one candidate per constituency.   

  • The ALBA 2026 Holyrood strategy is a pro-independence coalition with ALBA contributing 20-24 MSPs, which given the GE results seems improbable.  

And note the pro-independence coalition if it were to have any strength would have to include the SNP.  

This would encounter at least two problems; to overcome the inertia and complacency in the SNP, the initiative would require regime change; that is not only a new leader but the advisors and the people running the party would have to be replaced. Does the SNP have the appetite for such a drastic re-modelling, does it have the money? 

And the elephant in the room is the SNP will not work with Salmond.  The scars of the various inquiries and court cases have not healed.    

Humza Yousaf was stood down as First Minister because the perception was he would be working with Salmond.   

Some in the independence movement think that the SNP can be destroyed before Holyrood ‘26 and replaced by a pro-independence coalition of ALBA, ISP, and Independents for Independence, the comparative results for these parties and initiatives which was on average 1.3%, and the SNP on 30% should be a reality check. 

Why did Reform do so much better than ALBA? Reform got more than four times the percentage vote of ALBA.

Angus McNeil unencumbered by the ALBA brand gained 10% vote share compared to Neale Hanvey’s 2.8%.

The independents for independence candidates averaged 1.4% comparable to ALBA despite ALBA’s numerous advantages. In fact, in a head-to-head, the independent for independence candidate polled higher than the ALBA candidate. 

There is no disrespect to any ALBA candidate, but the leadership strategy was almost bound to fail.  There were far too many candidates and far too few activists and resources.  

The campaign was a low-excitement version of the '21 campaign or the ‘22 campaign without the numerous wee ALBA book public meetings. Why would the voting outcome be any different?

There was no proper political campaigning, no canvassing to identify ALBA voters enabling a get-out-the-vote effort. 

ALBA have failed to put a campaigning infrastructure in place and failed to implement the basics of an election campaign.  The belief amongst the leadership seems to be; put Salmond on TV and the votes will follow. But this clearly does not work and may be part of the problem.   

ALBA have not stepped out of Salmond’s shadow. They have been unable to define themselves as a party in their own right. They are Alex Salmond’s ALBA party. 

They need to define themselves as something other than a person and they must differentiate themselves from the SNP.  

There is no point in ALBA claiming this election was not important and it is the next one that matters. They have made no progress in three years what will change in the next two to bring ALBA success? 

That is the question ALBA members should consider. 


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