THE reaction of the elites to Alex Salmond’s political comeback suggests Scotland is embarking on a journey into its heart of darkness. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” yelled Robert Duvall’s lieutenant colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. It will be nothing though, compared with the sickly odours of hypocrisy and sanctimony that have already begun to invade our senses as the 2021 Holyrood election campaign gets under way.

As ever, the most thoughtful reaction to the launch of Alba, the chosen vessel for Mr Salmond’s comeback, has come from John Curtice, the UK’s savant of psephology. According to Professor Curtice, Mr Salmond’s sunny predictions of a pro-independence supermajority could turn to ashes on election day. Unless Alba’s candidates secure a sufficient percentage of votes in the constituency lists their efforts may deprive the SNP of the handful of these they require to gain an overall majority.

This of course, will rest on Mr Salmond’s personal popularity rather than on the attributes of Alba’s other candidates. With every fresh vicissitude the former first minister of Scotland’s sense of self-worth seems to swell. In similar circumstance most others would slink away, thankful simply to have survived the onslaught.

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Of the other senior politicians only Anas Sarwar, new leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, responded with any measure of dignity. The rest, by degrees, exhibited many of the haughty and juvenile tendencies that have alienated so many rank-and-file voters. Nicola Sturgeon – now the primary target of her predecessor’s vengeance – couldn’t resist a pathetic dig at Mr Salmond’s perceived gambling habits. The party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, described Kenny MacAskill – the highest profile SNP defector to the new party – as “an embarrassment”.

Mr Blackford, a nasty and vindictive politician, is still remembered across the political spectrum for the callous nature of his campaign against the tragic former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy. Recently, he was forced to apologise for attempting to inflict mob justice on an innocent freelance photographer for breaching travel restrictions (he’d done no such thing). At Westminster, Mr Blackford presided over meetings of his group which were barely-disguised, psychological ambushes to bring down his colleague, Joanna Cherry. One of these figures is indeed an embarrassment and it’s not Mr MacAskill.

The nature of Mr Blackford’s response encapsulates several of the reasons for Mr Salmond’s optimism. He and his senior colleagues have presided over the SNP’s transitioning from a party that exuded openness and bonhomie to one now characterised by authoritarianism and mind-control and built around the cult of their leader.

Thus, the foot-soldiers of the wider Yes movement, those who turn up in all weathers to march under one banner for independence have lately felt a disdainful chill coming from those who gather around the SNP leadership. These people have felt betrayed and only too aware of how they are routinely portrayed by those using the Hate Crime Bill and gender theory to marginalise them. The suspicion persists among many of them that these ideological proclamations are convenient fig-leafs to cover the SNP’s failure to improve the life-chances of Scotland’s poorest communities.

Contempt for those who may be tempted to back Alba was apparent too in much of the media commentary. One writer dismissed all those thousands who have already pledged allegiance to the new party as “cranks, misfits and zoomers”, these being the favoured slurs of middle-class commentators to dismiss anything they consider too rough to be worthy of actual engagement.

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Another idea that’s taken root among the café politicos is that by playing more than one pro-independence team in the contest nationalists are “Gaming Democracy”. Basically, this suggests that cornering the market in list seats as well as first-past-the-post ones is just not cricket, old boy, and undermines the spirit of the contest. Behave yourself.

Democracy itself is the gaming of equality. It’s how civilised, educated and opulent people mask the class-driven and unseen levers that still pull in their direction. You might think we exist in a state of one-person; one-vote equality but the multi-billion-pound lobbying sector; the adoption of neo-liberal power structures and the paths of least resistance always taken by politicians who promised to be radical indicate something else. Boris Johnson dropped the pretence last week when he lauded the corporate "greed" that’s apparently rescued us from the pandemic.

The SNP leadership’s fury at Mr Salmond’s re-emergence after he’d been presumed permanently deleted should be viewed in the context of gravy trains being de-railed and comfortable lifestyles jeopardised. His admitted inappropriate conduct in public office while being acquitted of any and all criminality will provide endless attack opportunities. These might carry more integrity if they didn’t come from an organisation which has consistently ignored complaints from female members who have been threatened with sexual violence by known – and protected – party activists.

Similarly, the accusations that Mr Salmond is threatening unity to satisfy his own ego-driven thirst for revenge. What unity? The parliamentary SNP has become a haven for preening, elitist performance artists while locking out working class people. It exists as a career opportunity for a cadre of mediocre middle-management types who gather to congratulate and affirm each other in issuing risk-free political emoluments. From time to time they pause, but only to abjure the thick proles for not being sophisticated enough to get on board with the progressiveness.

We may all be entitled to take a certain view of Mr Salmond’s past conduct and his actual reasons for leading the Alba Party, but spare me the sanctimony and hypocrisy. Nicola Sturgeon, Ian Blackford and their parliamentary drones have fostered more division in the SNP than anything that might be wrought by Mr Salmond. A generation of unbroken and unchallenged power has made them arrogant and self-indulgent. They have effectively established a party within a party and a platinum card members’ lounge where access is granted only to a favoured few who are word-perfect in the leader’s little red book of approved word and phrases.

If Alex Salmond and Alba do damage the prospects of an overall Yes majority Nicola Sturgeon will only have herself to blame.

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