Referendum resistance may ‘crumble’ after election, says Salmond

Alex Salmond has claimed that resistance from Westminster to a fresh independence referendum “will crumble” if Scottish voters elect a large number of pro-independence MSPs.

The former first minister said recent polls suggested a “super-majority” of up to 90 pro-independence MSPs could be elected in May, including a number from his new nationalist party, Alba, which launched at the end of last month.

Describing his new party as “the grit in the independence oyster”, Salmond said Alba’s goal was to push his successor as Scottish National party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, into opening talks on Scotland leaving the UK in the first week of the new parliament.

Holyrood “should issue an instruction to the Scottish government to begin negotiation for Scottish independence” with Westminster immediately after the election, he said, as he launched a new “declaration” in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, a town he once represented as an MP.

That could include legal action, mass demonstrations or unauthorised plebiscites to ensure Westminster listened, he said.

“Whatever the tactic that is decided upon, it has enormously more chance of creating an impression on Westminster, of bending Westminster to the will of the Scottish people, if there’s a massive super-majority of independence-supporting MSPs in that parliament. And that is what this election is about.”

Salmond downplayed questions from reporters about whether Sturgeon would work with him, in the aftermath of his bitter attacks on her government, her closest aides and his former friends and associates in the SNP during their feud over the investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

Sturgeon, once his protege and closest political ally, has said she will not consider working with him until he shows contrition about his behaviour towards women.

Salmond was cleared of 14 charges of sexual assault in a high court trial in 2020. A Scottish government inquiry upheld a number of sexual harassment complaints against him but was declared unlawful because of procedural failings.

Asked why he expected Sturgeon would want to work with him, given their recent enmity, he said: “I expect all politicians, and Nicola included, to accept the verdict of the people and to work with the parliament that the people give us. [And] I know that Nicola will be able to put national above personal.”

Senior figures in the SNP believe it quite likely Salmond will be elected to Holyrood on the north-east Scotland regional list, and become a flag-carrier for pro-independence fundamentalists critical of Sturgeon’s cautious approach.

Under Holyrood’s proportional voting system, regional list votes are used to ensure each party’s representation at Holyrood closely matches the overall number of votes cast for each party.

Because the SNP has recently won nearly all Holyrood’s 73 constituency seats, elected on a first-past-the-post basis, it was allocated only a handful of the 56 list seats available despite receiving a majority of list votes.

Salmond argues list votes for the SNP are wasted, suggesting if SNP voters instead back Alba in the list seats, numerous Alba MSPs could be elected and therefore boost the total number of pro-independence representatives in Holyrood.

SNP strategists are dismissive of Salmond’s claims but accept the potency of his political threat to Sturgeon hinges on the precise makeup of the parliament after 6 May.

The latest opinion polls show SNP support has fallen recently, putting Sturgeon’s prospects of winning a majority in doubt for the first time since last summer. Even so, it is highly unlikely the SNP or the Scottish Green party, the other pro-independence party at Holyrood, will entertain Salmond’s demands.

The SNP is expected to forge much closer ties with the Greens, and could consider forming a coalition government with them to help neutralise Salmond.

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