LIKE IT OR NOT, Alba has been the curiosity factor in an otherwise predictable election, but it’s unclear whether the impact will match the uproar. Since the Party’s (botched) launch, its poll numbers on the regional list have been as follows: 3%, 6%, 3%, 2%, 3%, 6%. This suggests, given the parliament’s arithmetic, that Alba is poised somewhere between irrelevance and a modest breakthrough. Establishment attitudes likewise sway between disdain and moral panic.
None of which alters my own view that Salmond is an unsuitable leader for the independence movement and a questionable candidate for the parliament. And the party has made serious mistakes, most notably failing to distance itself from homophobic conspiracy theories about Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland.
Rather than stoking its own moral panics, Alba would be well advised to guard against alarmism full stop. Ethics aside, it’s unclear how introducing more poison into an already toxic movement will help build a so-called super-majority for independence, far less promote dignified discussion of gender politics.
Equally, derangement cuts two ways. Alba has been labelled “alt-right”, “conservative”, even “fascist”. Given the anti-intellectual thrust of punditry today, subjecting these labels to even the barest scrutiny invites accusations of complicity.
But bedfellowism also cut both ways. Such has been Twitter’s obsession with Alba that you would imagine they were the party in power. In truth, they can expect – generously – to command a maximum half a dozen seats. For the aspirational politico, fretting over Alba has convenient side-effects, giving the aura of a moral high ground without damaging your prospects among those with real power. True progressives should treat all such risk-free stances with a dose of scepticism.
As real or performative panic enters the bloodstream, the ruling party’s historical right-wing remains embedded in the Scottish establishment. The SNP right ranges from social conservatives like John Mason and Kate Forbes to free market buccaneers and would-be admirals like Michael Russell, the Ewings and Angus Robertson.
Naturally, there is little risk that these right-wingers will follow Kenny MacAskill, Jim Sillars and George Kerevan into the arms of Alba. They have not just been comfortable inside the Sturgeon-Murrell regime; they have been actively promoted, for instance, at deputy leadership elections. Two right-wings don’t make a left. But the SNP are the people in power; and Sturgeon’s most likely successors are a social conservative (Forbes) and a buccaneering Atlanticist (Robertson). Few among the performative left have given this a second thought.
The above concerns only the elected aspect of SNP hegemony. That’s before assessing how Angus Grossart, Andrew Wilson and Charlotte Street Partners (CSP) have shaped all serious aspects of independence policy. None of which is democratically sanctioned, and around which exists a conspiracy of silence in Scotland’s public sphere. It’s worrying that only Neil Findlay and the Labour Left dare to defy the effective super-injunction on CSP. Silence, once again, could be interpreted as complicity.
The SNP, the people who actually hold power, have a weak domestic record on most fronts; a vision of independence that threatens to leave Scotland with less sovereignty than before; and no realistic plan to achieve self-determination in the first place. Many feel that the hopes of an authentically leftist movement have been pumped dry for the purposes of keeping the Russells, Ewings and Robertsons of the world in comfort. (The Greens, meanwhile, have largely positioned themselves as a ginger group on SNP hegemony.)
Eventually, something was bound to give. It’s a pity that it had to be Salmond, who, quite apart from his personal behaviour, has done little to distance himself from his years of promoting “Celtic Tiger” economics.
The jury is out on their electoral prospects. But if the Alba Party does gain serious influence, serious questions will follow. Lesley Riddoch put this well on last week’s ConterLive. If Alba does nothing serious to differentiate its vision of independence from Sturgeon’s, inevitably people will focus over the two areas of open disagreement, namely Salmond’s character and the post-GRA culture war.
I always guard against moral panics which disarm the left against the centrists in power; but that point cuts both ways. So far, Alba has acted as if it’s more worried by the unelected influence of Stonewall than the unelected influence of CSP, which suggests a jaundiced sense of priorities. Perhaps it’s not too late to remedy these shortcomings; but in its opening weeks, Alba has been its own worst enemy.