FIRST, there was just the slightest tingle of nerves. SNP loyalists will rarely admit it out loud, but some of them were worried about Alex Salmond’s comeback project, Alba. Before, that is, they saw it in action; before they saw who it had lured away from their party.

“I am not going to lie,” said one stalwart. “When the defections began we were all sort of holding our breath to see if he, Salmond, got anybody unexpected. When it become clear he hadn’t, we all relaxed and enjoyed the sideshow.”

Then, after a bit more thought, she added: “On the whole I’d say Alba has removed some of the more embarrassing trouble-makers in a way that is not unpleasing.”

Some SNP activists have been transfixed by Alba, like motorists rubbernecking a car crash. But a few more cynical souls are starting to see more than a spectacle, they scent an opportunity for the national movement to finally jettison its more chauvinistic and counter-productive fringe.

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It is still not really clear what kind of party Mr Salmond is building: he has attracted several different clans of contrarians; of social conservatives; of leftists, of nationalists who are more flaggy than civic; and, bluntly, of online conspiracists. It’s quite the eclectic mix.

It would be unfair to portray Alba purely as a problematically nationalistic project. Its membership is varied – as are the reasons why they have become disillusioned by the SNP. But there are signs some of its candidates and supporters feel, well, disinhibited.

One campaign video this week starred the actor, Angus MacFadyen, who played Robert the Bruce in the 1990s patriotic shlock gorefest Braveheart. Narrating pictures of saltire-waving protestors, he talked of “breaking the spine of English superiority’’. Sturgeon backers winced, but almost gleefully. It’s like the party has had a political enema and feels the better for it.

But how, if at all, will the SNP change without those members – and handful of politicians – who quit for Alba?

Not by much, insist those loyal to leader Nicola Sturgeon. Why? Because Mr Salmond’s backers had already been routed after trying to stage an insurrection inside the party. They left, in short, because they had lost.

Even before the SNP civil war, Salmond supporters were already marginal, according to this line of thinking. “There are no ‘wha’s like us’ nationalists in the leadership and not many in the membership either,” said one party figure, talking about national chauvinists.

But such nationalists, even if they are a minority, do exist. And they can certainly make themselves visible. Some of them have proved incredibly off-putting to wavering indy-curious voters, especially on social media.

Could Alba help detox the SNP of such “cybernats”? Has Mr Salmond, like a pied piper, played a tune to march all of them away from the political front line?

James Mitchell is not sure. The professor of public policy at Edinburgh University has spent much of his career studying the anatomy of Scottish nationalism.

“Detoxification is just rhetoric politicians use when people previously seen as valued members leave,” he said. “There may have been some desire to see some of Alba’s people go but most of them were previously more than welcome.”

Mr Mitchell also stressed how hard it is to pigeonhole the kind of people who have defected to Alba and those who have stayed behind.

Blair McDougall echoes this. A Labour strategist who led the pro-UK Better Together campaign ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, he smells hypocrisy. “The same people who told us a few days ago that the aggressive, abusive ethnic nationalist minority didn’t exist in their party are now telling us that fringe has left,” he said. “Some have, some haven’t.”

Inside the SNP there is another answer to whether their movement, their party can detox: it depends on how well Mr Salmond’s party does.

Alba, for them, could be the bin lorry that takes the SNP’s trash to the tip, to be forgotten forever. Or it could deliver the old rubbish right in to the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.

Would that put a smell on the entire independence project? Maybe. Mainstream nationalist sources hope Ms Sturgeon could wave her hand under her nose and point towards Mr Salmond. It is not her stench, after all.

Her former mentor was once also a part of the great shift of the SNP away from being unelectable eccentrics to what appears, for the time being at least, to be the natural party of devolved government. But that was before Mr Salmond lost the 2014 indyref, lashed out at the media and wound up fronting a chat show on Vladimir Putin’s premier western mouthpiece, RT.

It does not look like Ms Sturgeon’s opponents will let her forget Mr Salmond if he was lurking on the back benches. But would the SNP have to look and sound more impatient about independence to shore up its more nationalist flank?

Mr McDougall senses that Ms Sturgeon is already being dragged away from the constitutional centre ground to try and protect her more nationalist flank.

“The cautiousness on timing of attempting another vote has been replaced by an urgency that isn’t shared by the swing voters who are much more ‘not never, but certainly not now’,” he said.

SNP sources, on the contrary, expect their leader to be pragmatic and to put as much clear, saltire-blue sea between her and Mr Salmond as possible.

Right now it is hard to know how Alba will perform next month. Most pollsters suggest the start-up is dead-on-arrival, not least because of the personal approval ratings of its leader.

However, two surveys, by the same firm, give Alba just enough votes to deliver some MSPs and, potentially, cost the SNP its overall majority.

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Defeat means less exposure, especially on TV. But could Alba and those it represents endure without elected politicians, as an extra-parliamentary minor party? Could its Wars of Independence vibe compete with Ms Sturgeon’s cautious social democracy during a second indyref?

“It is difficult to imagine a Yes campaign as united next time as we saw in 2014,” said Mr Mitchell, speculating that, as during the Brexit campaign, there could be two rival pro-independence offerings. “This becomes more likely and more of a problem if Alba has some success next month.”

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