THE comparisons made between the Alba Party and the Trump project come thick and fast: the cult of personality, hardline flag-wrapped nationalism, the polarised chatter and disinformation, the elevation of cranks and oddballs, antipathy towards journalism, amplification of extremist online voices, a Russia connection.

The list goes on. Bring all those strands together, though, and what they reveal is the heart that beats within both the Trump movement and Alba: chaos. Alex Salmond, like his old friend Donald Trump, is an arch disruptor.

None of that, though, is going to damage Alba with its base. Like Trump’s base – that’s what they like. Alba may be small and insignificant, if polls are correct – just like early Ukip – but it has the ability to cause mayhem in its DNA, just like early Ukip. For Salmond’s followers, that’s clearly a positive – they want turmoil as that’s the path they believe paves the way to independence.

It’s clear mainstream SNP supporters aren’t won over by this alt-nat vision of the future. They want the safety of Nicola Sturgeon’s gradualist, social democratic approach. In terms of the SNP, what Alba really boils down to is a clearing out of the hardline fringe from the party’s ranks, an aggravating thorn in Sturgeon’s side, and the risk of a few seats at Holyrood at best.


READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: Alba distracts from issues that matter

However, the implications of Alba for the wider Yes movement are much more severe. The Yes movement has one central mission: to persuade undecided voters to back independence. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s all but impossible to see how voters who once backed No in 2014 are going to be persuaded to change course and jump on the Alba ship bound for who knows what final destination. Alba might just put such a stink on the idea of independence that the average undecided sticks with No.

In many ways, Alba’s arrival is the best thing that could have happened to Boris Johnson constitutionally. The Prime Minister knows his reputation is so rotten in Scotland that he’ll be invisible north of the border this side of the May vote. But Team Salmond could well do the work Johnson can’t: drive undecideds back to No.

It’s little wonder speculation now abounds that Johnson is considering calling a snap independence referendum. All he need do is let undecideds sicken enough at Alba and then spring a vote on Sturgeon, who wouldn’t be able to refuse. Game, set and match – and this time it would be for a generation. People write Johnson off as a buffoon – and to some extent that’s what he is, but he’s got ruthless cunning and political survival skills second to none. Do we need reminded how he gamed Brexit into a power-grab that ended in Number 10? This is a man, like it or not, who can play both sides against the middle and win.

The Alba chaos has taken on a more definitive shape over recent days. After its launch, the chaos was confined to ugly, bigoted statements from candidates and supporters, and the usual, expected conspiratorial lunacy from its online brigade – with lots of flags and atavistic hark-backs to Bannockburn thrown in for good measure.

Now, though, there’s a little bit of clarity where the Alba chaos wants to take us. The party plans to lay a motion before Holyrood, just as soon as Alba candidates are elected (if that happens of course), “instructing” – as Salmond puts it – “the government to initiate independence negotiations with Westminster”.

Salmond says he takes “issue” with the SNP saying a second referendum should only be held when the pandemic ends. Independence first – that’s the policy.

How must this sit with undecided voters? Clearly, they want persuasion, not bullying and steamrollering. It’s hard to imagine any undecideds favouring a referendum amid pandemic or recovery. Alba’s tactics appear almost designed to lose the Yes movement supporters.

It all feels like Salmond is trying to start a rather ugly battle of wills with Sturgeon. A sort of ‘my indy is bigger than your indy’ showdown. It’s difficult to see how that will work with voters. Sturgeon is the antithesis of swaggering machismo – and she’s the one with the approval ratings while Salmond languishes behind Boris Johnson as the most unpopular leader in Scotland.

Evidently, this all comes atop the sight of a Yes movement split between the SNP and Greens on one side and Alba on the other. Alba supporters have even called for votes to go to Unionist parties to hurt the SNP. Splits aren’t vote winners. Undecideds most likely think: hang on, if I vote for Sturgeon’s vision of independence, might I get Salmond’s instead?

Salmond has also sown chaos into the issue of an independent Scotland returning to the EU – a factor central to the Yes movement’s rise in support. He says Scotland should initially join the European Free Trade Association instead of the EU. Salmond also wants a new currency. Many cautious, newly converted Yes voters were Remainers won over to independence at the promise of EU re-entry. Now they may suspect that might not happen. This too seems designed to alienate Yes support.

READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: Wheest for indy? No thanks

Simmering away in the background is the sense that Alba won’t favour a reasonable course when it comes to separation from the UK. A Section 30 order – an agreement with the UK to transfer powers to the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum – isn’t “the gold standard”, Salmond has said, adding: “The strategy is Scottish independence, not a Scottish independence referendum.” Salmond has also talked of street protests as a tactic to force a referendum.

None of this woos average undecideds. Another referendum will cause a constitutional crisis and social division whatever happens. It’s hard to imagine undecideds being attracted to the idea of overt chaos on top of what already promises to be a stormy future for Scotland.

Regardless of whether Alba implodes at the election, if the party drives away undecideds from the idea of independence, then one of the greatest ironies to go down in the Scottish history books will be how Alex Salmond who signed the death warrant of the Yes movement.

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