HeraldScotland:

With the announcement of Alex Salmond's new Alba Party dominating headlines and social media feeds this afternoon, we asked three of our top contributors for their opinions in this special edition of Voices Live.

Iain Macwhirter, Claire Taylor and Mark Smith have offered their personal insight into the news, which was announced in a broadcast by the former first minister earlier today.

Claire Taylor: "Public health has to come before political ambition"

Here was me thinking Friday night’s in lockdown were getting progressively duller – well Alex Salmond has certainly put paid to that.

If you thought indyref2 discussions have dominated news agendas of late, then the announcement of Mr Salmond’s new pro-independence Alba party will certainly keep journalists desks brimming with copy, as this divisive agenda has been given further fuel for the weeks ahead.

To suggest that this move will simply augment support for independence as opposed to damage the SNP is somewhat naive. I’d be interested to know how many additional supporters this new party would attract which aren’t already aligned to the SNP. More importantly, it will serve as a continuous reminder to the public of the ongoing civil war within the party over the Alex Salmond inquiry, which if anything, has threatened support for independence.

HeraldScotland: Claire Taylor

This political comeback is nothing short of an ego-driven attempt to revamp his war with the First Minister. I doubt it will return much success, but what it does do is send a direct challenge to Nicola Sturgeon that the SNP is not the only party for independence.

The upcoming Holyrood election should be an opportunity to kickstart the recovery of this country, not provide a battleground for Salmond and Sturgeon to continue their feud and take valuable time and efforts away from important issues.

READ MORE: SNP MP Joanna Cherry dismisses claims she is poised to defect to Alba party

We are still very much in a pandemic; national recovery must be paramount – self-interest mustn’t be allowed to take centre stage ahead of the national interest.

There is a limit to Scotland’s emotional resilience and the current pandemic has tested it to the limit. Let me reiterate that this is not the time for another divisive referendum to turn our communities against one another, public health has to come before political ambition.

Iain Macwhirter: "Alba is being cast as a vehicle for Alex Salmond's ego"

It was a rocky start to the Alex Salmond party, as it will inevitably be called, rather than its official name “Alba”. It was a bit 'Rocky Horror Show' too as Mr Salmond emerged from a gloomy set with ghoulish under lighting. The former First Minister stared into space as livestreamed journos delivered questions which were not relayed, initially at least, to the viewing public. As a press conference, it broke new ground in giving the answers but no questions.

Alba is being cast as a vehicle for Alex Salmond's ego, which it obviously is – all successful politicians are egoists. It's practically a job requirement. But he remains a formidable speaker as he made clear once the technical people got their act together. His campaign launch was a joke, but he is anything but. And Nicola Sturgeon will not be laughing.

READ MORE: What is the Alba Party and who are its candidates?

This is not Plan B for independence so much as Plan Alex. The idea is to field candidates only on the Holyrood list seats, which are elected on a regional basis from party lists. Owing to the d'Hondt method of PR used in the Scottish Parliament, the party most successful in the 73 constituency seats – currently the SNP – is most unlikely to win many places on the remaining 56 “top up” list seats.

Mr Salmond says he is supporting Nicola Sturgeon's SNP for the constituency ballot (however improbably that may sound) and is only seeking to enhance the independence majority by delivering supportive seats from the list. He talked of helping deliver a “super-majority” of 90 seats or more. This he believes could force the UK government to relent and allow a referendum, or even independence itself.

HeraldScotland: Iain Macwhirter. Columnist.Pic Gordon Terris/The Herald25/4/17

It's not totally daft. As Mr Salmond pointed out, the UK government has in the past granted independence to colonies and protectorates when their peoples have spoken with a clear voice. The super-majority would, he says, be unanswerable.

But what is also unanswerable is that Alex Salmond has emerged from the Holyrood Harassment inquiry with his character stained and his reputation rubbished. Mr Salmond was found innocent of any wrongdoing by a jury, but that is not going to stop journalists, and his former party, repeatedly asking whether he has apologised for his inappropriate behaviour towards women, or suggesting he is not fit for public office.

This new venture may do nothing more than perpetuate the civil war in the SNP and split the independence movement in two. Alba may deliver some extra seats, but a house divided is still a house defeated.

Mark Smith: "Campaigners who are busy fighting with each other aren’t best placed to win the bigger campaign of independence"

I have to admit there was a part of me that thought things were about to settle down a bit. The inquiries were over, Nicola Sturgeon’s position is much more secure than it was a few weeks ago, and the SNP got their election campaign off to an excellent start with their 4-per-cent pay rise for health workers.

READ MORE: Alba Party internet address hijacked within hours by internet pranksters

But no. Alex Salmond wasn’t finished yet. Quite the opposite: he has announced the launch of a new independence party and, although it had been rumoured for a while, it is still an extraordinary move. The SNP has never been the only party that supports independence – there are a number of others – but they are small players; tug boats following the SNP tanker. This new party is led by the alpha male of independence with a proven track record for campaigning. That makes a big difference.

HeraldScotland:

So what could it do, and what does it mean? First, it is the first proper challenge to the idea that the SNP is the only real party of nationalism and the only serious conduit to independence. Second, it underlines the fissure in the party, with Salmond on one side and Sturgeon on the other. And third, it has the potential to do well, particularly if it attracts significant support from nationalists who are fed up with what they see as Sturgeon’s easy-does-it caution and prefer Salmond’s crockery-smashing confidence.

The longer-term possibilities are also intriguing. Mr Salmond suggests that his party offers the chance of a super-majority in favour of independence made up of a number of different parties. But I’m not so sure. A clear-cut, big majority for the SNP would give clear authority to demand another referendum; to that extent, the cause would be united. But a pro-independence majority made up of different parties, two of which are led by former friends who are now bitter enemies, would be much more fractured and fractious. In other words, campaigners who are busy fighting with each other aren’t best placed to win the bigger campaign of independence.