When Alex Salmond announced that he would lead a new pro-independence party on the regional list he did so without suggesting that this was a move supported by the SNP.

The bid to use Alba list seats as a way to get a 'supermajority' of pro-independence MSPs was in some senses unnecessary. Both the Greens  - and in the past the SSP - have focused on list contests and serve the same purpose. The move clearly offered unsolicited assistance, “helping”, but in quotes. 

There are three constraints facing Alex Salmond’s new endeavour.

The first is that the electorate doesn’t appear to like him or trust him, and this is even more true among SNP supporters. In the various polling questions about truthfulness or favourability, we can ask how much people believe or like either Nicola Sturgeon or Alex Salmond, or we can create a forced-choice question, requiring respondents to choose which of the two they believe (or like). Both tell the same story. The electorate as a whole believes Sturgeon more than it does Salmond. The unavoidable fact for Salmond is that even in the midst of the recent inquiry Sturgeon’s trustworthy score (Savanta, early March) was streets ahead of other party leaders in Scotland.

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Second, the pool of voters taking Alex Salmond’s side appears to be a collection of groups that are not natural bedfellows (Savanta ComRes early March). Most inclined to believe him are Conservatives and 2014 No voters, but the evidence here smacks more of the old ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ adage. Slim pickings there, one would think, for supporters of a new social democratic pro-independence party. 

The over 65s are the only demographic group more inclined to believe his side of the story. Leavers are more favourable (although there’s an obvious crossover with Conservative supporters). His ratings are particularly dismal among women. If the whole sad affair has been damaging to anyone it has been damaging to Salmond. Over half the electorate feels more negatively towards him and this is particularly acute for SNP voters (64% of whom trust him less). Only 7% of those intending to vote SNP believe him over Nicola Sturgeon.

Could the Alba Party get into Holyrood? The key issues facing Alex Salmond

The SNP is not without divisions. Disagreements about the pace of referendum progress, what to do if the UK government refuses to agree to negotiate the terms of one, its avowedly pro-Remain stance, the Sturgeon-Salmond tensions, disagreements about its domestic agenda, not least the content of its gender recognition and its hate crime legislation all rumble on.  To succeed, the Alba party would need to pit itself against the SNP leadership to soak up disaffected SNP voters: faster and more hardline on a referendum, opposed to GRA and the hate crime act, while also being comfortable with the leadership of Salmond.  Folks disgruntled on only one front might well find that insufficient to jump ship.

The third constraint is that the reality Salmond hopes to create – a pro-independence majority – might well imperil an SNP majority. What evidence we have suggests that even among SNP supporters there is a sizeable drop in support for calling a referendum within a year (from 73% to 65%) if the 2021 elections fail to generate an SNP majority but provide a pro-indy majority (YouGov early March).  Indy supporters see an SNP majority, not a pro-indy majority, as a route to a fast referendum. If Alba is seeking to attract impatient supporters it might well be undoing the cause it purports to support.

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How successful might the party be? There is a lot of discussion that the party might well take Green seats. Green voters themselves might switch their allegiance, but the political and demographic profile of Green voters are unlikely to fit with the profile of a pro-Leave, anti-GRA, anti-Sturgeon impatient male indy supporter in his 60s. 

Of course, the party could take SNP list votes and in so doing take the last seat won on each list.

New polling is obviously needed to be sure, but the Alba Party would need to be winning around ten percent of the SNP’s list votes (in some cases considerably more) in order to count on a seat. And given what we know about how SNP voters feel about Alex Salmond, that could well be wishful thinking.