TOMMY Sheridan has urged Alex Salmond to stand in next year’s Holyrood election as the head of a new pro-independence party.

The Solidarity leader said the former First Minister would “sweep up the votes” if he ran on the list in 2021.

Despite backing the new Alliance for Independence (AFI), Mr Sheridan said he wanted Mr Salmond to stand even if it sidelined other Yes forces.

“I would much rather see him do that than us have the ability to stand,” the former Glasgow MSP said.

A recent poll suggested a new party fronted by Mr Salmond could attract a quarter of the votes on the Holyrood list system, which returns 56 of Holyrood’s 129 MSPs.

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Mr Salmond resigned from the SNP in August 2018 after the Scottish Government held an in-house sexual misconduct into complaints against him made by two civil servants.

He won a judicial review at the Court of Session, forcing the Government to admit the probe was unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

It led to a rift with Nicola Sturgeon, a split widened by him later being charged with sexual assault - he was acquitted on all 13 counts this March.

Since the trial he has been writing a book about his experience which he says will reveal evidence of a plot by Ms Sturgeon’s inner circle against him.

His supporters say he was the victim of a conspiracy to smear him and stop his return to frontline politics, where he could potentially rival his successor.

Standing in the election against Ms Sturgeon and her party could be the ultimate revenge, and capitalise on frustration in the Yes movement about a lack of progress on Indyref2.

One sign of that impatience is the emergence of the AFI, led by former SNP MSP Dave Thompson, which plans to field candidates on the Holyrood lists to maximise the number of Yes MSPs at Holyrood.

However the SNP has refused to withdraw from the list, and accused the AFI of trying to “game the system”.

Appearing on the pro-independence Scottish Prism podcast, Mr Sheridan said Solidarity had attended the first AFI meeting in February and considered the group had merit, and its first conference in September would be “worth participating in”.

But asked about what would happen if Mr Salmond entered the fray, he said there was “no doubt” that all the other small Yes parties would have to “take their tents down and go home”.

He said: “If Alex does that, then the rest of us can forget it, because he’ll sweep up the votes, quite rightly given his reputation for many many years.

“But do you know what? I’m calling on Alex to do it.

“I would much rather see him do that than us have the ability to stand.

“I don’t think us standing is a big deal for the independence movement.

“If nobody else is standing on that particular platform to utilise the voting system, to actually sweep up the second votes that otherwise would go to Unionists, then yes we’ll do it.

“But I would much rather Alex was prepared to do it because he will be more successful at it.”

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Both Mr Sheridan and Mr Salmond currently work for Kremlin-funded propaganda outlets - Mr Sheridan for Sputnik news and Mr Salmond for the TV channel RT.

In its long-delayed Russia report, the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee last week said both state-owned outlets were guilty of “serious distortions” in their coverage.

James Kelly of the pro-independence Scot Goes Pop! website last week said he was sceptical about the AFI winning any MSPs, but said that Mr Salmond would probably win a large number of seats if he headed up a new list party.

“It would change the political landscape overnight,” he said.

Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said: “Scotland deserves better than this discredited duo from the Kremlin’s propaganda channels.

“Next year’s election is too important to become the Tommy and Alex Show with their campaign to divide Scotland once again. The election must be about people’s jobs and supporting our NHS.”

Mr Salmond has refused to comment on political matters since his trial.