THE prospect of Alex Salmond returning to parliament has spread panic in the Holyrood chicken coop. It only took one opinion poll suggesting his new party, Alba, might deliver a handful of seats, to reveal the instincts of the Scottish political establishment: which is to shut him out by discrediting Holyrood's electoral system.

The Liberal Democrats, who were co-architects of the Additional Member System back in the day, are now talking of scrapping it for the Single Transferable Vote hoping that would put Salmond back in his box. It wouldn't. Under STV, voters elect MSPs on large multi-member constituencies. It effectively turns Holyrood into one vast list-system, abolishing existing parliamentary constituencies. STV generates a class of footloose politicians who owe nothing to their localities.

Nicola Sturgeon is effectively saying that that list votes carry less weight than constituency ones, which was never the intention of AMS. She says that a party that only contests list seats is “gaming the system” and cheating. This is constitutionally dyslexic. The Additional Member System, whatever its faults, was devised to address the failings of the Westminster system, first by introducing proportional representation, and second by allowing new parties to enter political contention.

READ MORE IAIN MACWHIRTER: Will people vote for Alba?

There is no reason why Alba, which has its own policy agenda on a range of issues from women's rights to Covid recovery, should not be legitimate just because the First Minister doesn't like its leader. Equally the squawks of outrage from the Scottish Greens amount to electoral hypocrisy. It is the archetypical list party. The Green leader, Patrick Harvie, cleaves closer to Nicola Sturgeon's policy agenda than Alex Salmond does.

This past week has shed an illuminating light on the state of politics in Scotland. Holyrood increasingly resembles a parliament of virtue-signalling careerists whose over-riding purpose is saving their seats and salaries. They pass ill-thought-out and intrusive legislation like the Hate Crime Bill, seeking to criminalise what people say in their own homes. Their instinct is to control; to tell people how to behave and limit freedom of thought.

Scotland is not a one-party state, but Holyrood is turning into a one-party parliament. It's led by SNP politicians who take power for granted supported by an unaccountable and vindictive bureaucracy. Civil servants remain in post even after being condemned by the Court of Session and censured by a parliamentary inquiry. They have created a network of client charities and lobby groups, dependent on public funds, which act as Nicola Sturgeon's extra-parliamentary support network.

At the centre of it all is Nicola Sturgeon's Big Fib: that the Scottish Government is serious about triggering an independence referendum next year. Everyone knows this is nonsense. Why would this administration, so deeply entrenched in the Holyrood system, risk losing political control by forcing an unpredictable ballot on independence?

Voters and the media have mostly twigged that the SNP's 11 point plan for independence is phoney. This explains why many unionist commentators, so hostile to independence in 2014, have suddenly become agents of influence for Scotland's Eva Peron.

To achieve something as radical as independence involves more than repeatedly asking for a Section 30 order from Westminster, which you know is going to be refused. Independence is a kind of national revolution. It would require a united and resolute parliament backed by a boisterous extra-parliamentary movement. It would involve sustained legal attrition through the courts and relentless challenges to the UK government until it relents. This is essentially what Alex Salmond's Unilateral Declaration of Independence yesterday involves. He wants the Scottish Parliament to negotiate for independence by virtue of an election supermajority, pre-empting a referendum.

With his suit and tie, Alex Salmond, doesn't look like a revolutionary, but he is the great upsetter of Scottish politics. Alba is an inheritor of a radical nationalist tradition which goes back to the French Revolution and the Scottish Radicals of the early 19th century. Nicola Sturgeon is a safety first politician who loathes populist politics. Which is why the SNP bureaucracy sought to write Salmond out of history as a sexual miscreant and political dinosaur.

There was indeed a Jurassic quality to Salmond's Ellon Declaration yesterday, with its unapologetic appeal to romantic nationalism, The Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath. Salmond wants to ignite patriotic fervour in defiance of the SNP's managerialism. He wants MSPs to gather on May 7th saying: so long as 129 of us remain alive we will not tolerate English rule. This seems about as likely as Nicola Sturgeon joining the Brexit Party.

Even with an independence supermajority, what makes Mr Salmond believe that all those SNP MSPs, with their £65,000 a year, are going to rise up and risk all for the sake of national freedom? This is 2021, not 1321. The First Minister will surely ignore him, and her troops will turn their backs.

READ MORE IAIN MACWHIRTER: Sturgeon's best ally

Mr Salmond also assumes that Scots genuinely want independence, which is not yet clear. Scots rather like to think of themselves as radical and progressive, even though they tend to be conventional and timid. Scottish independence requires courage, difficulty and self-sacrifice. There may not appear to be much of a market for that in modern Scotland. It is our conceit that, like Burns, the politics of the common weal burn in Scottish hearts, when mostly we just want a quiet life.

Confrontational politics is alien to the instincts of the Scottish middle classes. However, most of us thought that back in 2014 – that Salmond was deluded and that his independence referendum was a non-starter. What happened was that the working class Scots suddenly saw the opportunity to make a mark on history and backed Yes. People don't always vote for an easy life. Something similar happened during the Brexit referendum.

Will many Scots sign up to Salmond's new Yes campaign? We'll see. If nothing else it will challenge the hypocrisy of Scotland's nominally nationalist political establishment. Salmond is a cat amongst the pigeons and he just refuses to be put down. Nicola Sturgeon's worst nightmare may be about to turn into reality: having her former mentor second-guess her, week in, week out, at First Minister's Questions. It might drive her into early retirement.

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