With the launch of his Alba party, the former first minister looks as though he is focused on settling old scores rather than reflecting on his past behaviour

OpinionWith the launch of his Alba party, the former first minister looks as though he is focused on settling old scores rather than reflecting on his past behaviour
Sun 28 Mar 2021 03.30 EDT
When the interviewer asks why you want the job, its not enough to simply state that the salary seems reasonable and youve got bills to pay. Youve got to slither into the world of corporate jargon and highlight the synergy that exists between their brand ethos and your personal values.
When they ask what is your biggest flaw or weakness, you deploy a stealth boast. You tell them that you often find it difficult to switch off from work and dont take sick days when you probably should. You admit to nothing more sinful than being a bit of a perfectionist. You are loyal to a fault.
It was with that same air of faux sincerity that Alex Salmond launched his new political party on Friday. During a glitch-ridden livestream where he announced the birth of the Alba party, Salmond insisted his sole aim was to help secure a pro-independence super-majority in Holyroods elections in May. Of course, any damage that might be inflicted on his former party in the process would just be a happy coincidence.
We will soon find out who the Alba party candidates are and Salmond has hinted that some big names, possibly defectors from the Scottish National party (SNP), will be joining the gang. Naturally, he will be among the candidates standing for Alba on regional lists. Not that he is motivated by anything so grubby as self-interest, though. On Friday, he pitched himself as a man who is just trying to be helpful. That nobody asked for his help seems to be of little relevance.
Salmond is a slick and accomplished political operator. His achievements are many and his impact on Scottish politics cannot be denied. Perhaps that is why he seems so unwilling to let go of the old days. Like a gambler thrusting sweaty coins into a slot machine, he chases the memory of a distant high. The odds are against him but in many ways that doesnt matter. He isnt driven by a burning desire to win an independence super-majority any more than Boris Johnson was sincere about wanting to free the UK from the shackles of the EU. The stated aims of both men are merely vehicles for their egos and need for relevance.
Its too early to judge Albas prospects of success in May. In what was already destined to be a febrile campaign, there is a risk that bombast and personality politics could overshadow the debate about post-pandemic recovery. Newly formed parties have a habit of crashing and burning at the ballot box, though Nigel Farages Brexit party was one inglorious exception to that rule.
At the launch, Salmond denied suggestions that he was trying to emulate Farages style. But the two have one thing in common: both are well known and adored by their core demographics.
As a former first minister and the man who helped take Scotland closer than ever to independence, Salmond is one of the most recognisable figures in UK politics. He hopes his personal brand will help secure the list votes he needs to stage his political comeback. It would be an added bonus and a source of great personal triumph if Alba picked up enough seats to hold a position of influence in the new parliament, but you get the sense that Salmond wont be beset by loneliness if he ends up being the only Alba MSP in the chamber.
He was asked about his drop in popularity in recent years. He lost his seat in the 2017 general election to Colin Clark. And that was before voters were made aware of his propensity for sleepy cuddles or the unpleasant work environment created by his bully-boy behaviour.
Salmond says it’s time to move on from all that but this election will renew scrutiny of his character and judgment
Salmond says its time to move on from all that, but this election will bring renewed scrutiny and his character and judgment will be focal points. We got a glimpse of what we can expect over the coming weeks when the Heralds Tom Gordon asked Salmond: Are you still a bully and a creep or have you reformed?
While Salmond was acquitted of all charges in a criminal trial, his lawyer told the court that he had not always behaved well and could have been a better man. Giving evidence in that trial, Salmond said he wished he had been more careful with other peoples personal space.
Yet, rather than taking time to really reflect on the impact of his behaviour on others, Salmond seems more focused on settling old scores. In the short term, that might damage the SNP in the form of defections following that of the former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and division. His stated aim of increasing the Holyrood pro-independence majority might backfire. Or it might not. Much will depend on how the debate is framed and how much the Salmond v Sturgeon narrative dominates the campaign.
While much is still unknown, we do know one thing for sure: the women who made complaints against the new Alba party leader are still suffering. Ever since the accusations against him were made public, his loyalists have been engaged in a troll campaign against the women who made complaints.
They have been called liars, witches and every other unimaginative and vicious misogynistic term of abuse you can think of. They have the right to lifelong anonymity but that hasnt stopped them being named online and targeted for vitriol.
I wonder how they must have felt as they watched Salmond announce his triumphant return to politics. This is a group of women who have been subject to the most fierce public commentary Scotland has ever seen. Now the Salmond circus is back in town and it has trampled over any hopes they had for finding the peace they need to move on with their lives.
Kirsty Strickland is a writer based in Glasgow
We will be in touch to remind you to contribute. Look out for a message in your inbox in May 2021. If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us.