He's back. Like a superannuated Terminator, Alex Salmond has returned for what must surely be the final sequel in his political franchise.

And this time it's personal. After the chaotic launch of his new party, Alba, on Friday leaders of his old party could hardly contain their fury, journalists their contempt.

The normally mild-mannered Times columnist, Alex Massie, seemed almost personally affronted at this “ugly, boak-inducing, big swinging dick” hoisting “a banner behind which all the zoomers, and cranks and conspiracy theorists will march”.

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The Scottish National Party said his return was “predictable” - even though they hadn't - and said “serious concerns” made him unfit for office. Well they should know, since he led them for 25 years. 

In that time he took the SNP from a band of tartan romantics to a party of government. Salmond led the SNP to its first-ever parliamentary victory in 2007. By 2011 he'd turned the SNP into the leading force in Scottish politics and won an overall majority under Holyrood's proportional voting system, which was supposed to make such majorities all but impossible. He beat d'Hondt – as he's trying to do again with his bid for list-only seats.

HeraldScotland:

That 2011 landslide provided the mandate to negotiate the Edinburgh Agreement with David Cameron, triggering the Section 30 Order and the Scottish independence referendum.

After a poor start, the Yes campaign under Salmond's leadership gave the UK state a near death experience in September 2014. “The dream will never die”, he said, resigning on the morning after the result. Under his protege Nicola Sturgeon, it nearly did.

Sturgeon's failure to progress the independence cause is what has brought Alex Salmond back from the political undead. Alba is a response to the frustration in the independence movement at her safety-first leadership. She boycotted the biggest independence marches in Scottish history in 2018. He would have led them from the front.

Salmond first threatened to come back in March 2018, much to the chagrin of the SNP establishment. His return was stalled after senior figures in the SNP and the Scottish Government accused him of being a sex criminal.

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He was found innocent of those charges exactly one year ago in the High Court, but his erstwhile colleagues are unimpressed. Nicola Sturgeon says that just because he was acquitted doesn't mean the “behaviour didn't happen”. Salmond had admitted behaving inappropriately with one of the women some years ago, but denied any criminality.

At his launch the press wanted to know one thing above all: how can a man with such a taint of improper behaviour expect people to vote for him? Salmond will be asked this all the way to polling day.

Saying cryptically, as he did, that everyone should “accept the findings of the courts and inquiries” isn't going to stand. He will have to find a more assertive way to profess his innocence.

However, this doesn't mean people won't vote for him. Amongst older Scottish nationalists, he remains a towering figure. Many contributed to his legal fighting fund and never believed the charges against him.

Others are unimpressed by the woke preoccupations of the SNP leadership and bemused by legislation like the Hate Crime Bill. They have been given an opportunity to vote for Salmond without appearing to damage The Cause. They can lend him their votes on the list and still vote SNP in the constituency ballot.

SNP leaders are convinced women voters will turn away in disgust but I'm not so sure about that either. He was, after all, acquitted by a female-dominated jury. Nor are older SNP women excessively keen on Nicola Sturgeon's plans to allow natal men to self-identify as women.

Working-class voters are not so repelled by Salmond's populism as SNP insiders would like to think.

Alba needs to get over 6% to be in the running for list seats. That's around 20,000 votes in regions like Salmond's old stomping ground, North East Scotland, where 137,000 SNP votes in 2016 delivered zero list seats.

However, Salmond needs credible candidates, 32 in all, to stand with him,. It is not clear how many are going to rally around his flag. It is a big step to leave the SNP and be led by this man into the political wilderness.

Salmond still has pulling power, of course. His gremlin-strewn press launch led the Ten O'Clock News and was all over the front pages yesterday, even in UK papers like the Financial Times.

His call for a super-majority is a very big ask and may serve only to make the SNP more divided and prolong its civil war. The Right Honourable Alex Salmond may simply be heading for his biggest and final fall. But suddenly this 2021 election has come alive, and Scotland is fascinated to discover what happens next.