Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has yet to perform well in the polls that indicate how the people of Scotland will vote in May.

The most recent polling average gives Alba a 2.1% share of the list vote and will see the party fail to win a single seat. Rather than riding the wave of an independence supermajority to Holyrood, Alba is set to crash upon the rocks of irrelevance.

Given that the Scottish public has recently shown a consistent tendency to support independence, some people – not least those running Alba - may be surprised by their dismal showing in the polls. Notwithstanding external variables such as Nicola Sturgeon’s effective leadership throughout the pandemic, Alba’s poor polling performance can be explained by several internal factors.

First, the central issue limiting Alex Salmond’s Alba party is Alex Salmond himself. One poll recently found Salmond to be the most unpopular politician in Scotland. He is less popular than Boris Johnson, and any party that pins its hopes on Salmond is going to struggle to gain support.

HeraldScotland: Polls indicate that Alex Salmond is less popularPolls indicate that Alex Salmond is less popular

The second factor limiting Alba is Salmond’s failure to gain the backing of some of his closest allies within the SNP. Since Alba’s launch, two backbench SNP MPs and a handful of councillors defected to Alba after months of criticising the SNP leadership.

However, other prominent politicians allied to Salmond have not joined his party. The day before Alba launched, Joanna Cherry QC - one of Salmond’s closest allies within the SNP Westminster group - announced that she was taking time off for “health reasons”. Angus MacNeil, another SNP MP who many thought would join Salmond, has also not jumped ship despite recently suggesting that a list vote for Alba would be “using logic and sense”. If Salmond can’t convince his friends to join his party, no wonder he is struggling to convince the Scottish public to support him.

The third reason for Alba’s difficulties in gaining popular appeal concerns how Alba has positioned itself in the culture war that has ripped through Scottish politics recently. One of the main issues that has driven former SNP supporters to Alba is an opposition to the SNP’s 2016 manifesto commitment to reform the Gender Recognition Act which would bring Scotland in line with international best practice for people who are Transgender.

GRA reform has become a lightning rod for socially conservative independence supporters to rally against the SNP leadership under the pretence that Trans rights infringe on womens rights. Now, those people who have criticised the SNP’s pursuit of LGBTQ equality have found a home in Alba.

This weekend, Alba members and candidates falsely suggested that well respected LGBTQ charities in Scotland were seeking to lower the age of consent. This dangerous disinformation is a longstanding homophobic trope that equates gay people with paedophiles. Not only are such anti-LGBTQ views abhorrent, but they do also not appeal to the Scottish public.

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Similarly, whilst opposition to the GRA and seemingly inoffensive but transphobic references to Trans women as ‘men in dresses’ are often be espoused by some activists, bloggers and journalists, these views do not match the reality of what the Scottish public thinks about Trans people.

Alba have mistaken the vociferous claims of a vocal online minority as a real reflection of what Scotland thinks. But in fact, as Alba are finding out by polling so badly, opposing the progress of LGBTQ rights is not a vote winner in modern Scotland.

Finally, underpinning all of Alba’s failures is a lack of a clear and coherent vision for why we need independence in the first place. Alba members claim they want independence sooner than the SNP, and that they will pursue a “Plan B” to get it. However, with no policies on offer, it’s hard to see why exactly they want independence.

Led by a former First Minister and featuring a candidate roster of current and former politicians, as well as lawyers, business directors, and financial consultants, Alba appears to represent disgruntled members of the Scottish establishment rather than a groundswell of grassroots activists with the aim of making our nation better for ordinary Scots.

With an unpopular leader who was unable to convince close allies to join him, candidates who court controversy and oppose equalities, and a distinct lack of any actual policies beyond hollow platitudes about an independence supermajority, it is no wonder Alba is polling so badly. Rather than being a serious contender in the upcoming election, Alba is a populist party without the popularity.

Dr Rhys Crilley is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow and part of the Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Glasgow