THERE’S a very strange anomaly in Scottish democracy which needs addressed. The Alba Party was humiliated at the polls, and thoroughly rejected by voters. Yet the party has two sitting MPs and a clutch of councillors in office, who defected from the SNP.

Alba’s cheerleaders told us ‘a storm was coming’. It didn’t even rain. Alba failed to register even 2% in the election – yet because of defections it has representatives in the House of Commons and Scottish councils.

The two MPs are Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey. The case around Hanvey is a little more complicated than MacAskill, who’s a straightforward defector from the SNP to Alba.

In 2019, Hanvey was the SNP’s candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. He was dropped in November over using anti-semitic language on social media. Despite his suspension, Hanvey appeared on the ballot next to the SNP name as the deadline for candidates to be nominated had passed.

After election, he initially sat as an independent. He apologised for anti-semitic language and was readmitted to the SNP. In 2020, he was appointed the SNP’s spokesperson for the Westminster Health and Social Care Select Committee. This March, Hanvey, together with Kenny MacAskill who was elected as the SNP MP for East Lothian, and a number of SNP councillors, defected to Alba.

READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: The Alba effect

Clearly, voters represented by Hanvey, MacAskill and others – such as the Inverclyde councillor Christopher McEleny – didn’t vote for them as members of Alba. So surely, the only honourable course of action is for these defectors to stand down immediately and submit themselves to by-elections. If the people they currently represent still find them suitable as representatives, then all well and good. However, to cling on to position, power and a public pay cheque in the current circumstances is surely morally untenable, even cowardly.

This week Neale Hanvey denounced the SNP as toxic, aggressive and hostile, saying he “detested” what the party had become. It would evidently be best policy, perhaps, for all concerned if he makes a clear and irrevocable split with the SNP, putting himself up for re-election on an Alba ticket so he cannot be accused of riding into a job on the coattails of a party he evidently loathes.

On a wider stage, matters are currently going very badly for prominent Alba supporters. Craig Murray, a former British diplomat who became a blogger and cheerleader for Alex Salmond, was sentenced to eight months in prison this week for contempt of court relating to the trial of the former First Minister. Judges ruled Murray in contempt relating to material capable of identifying four complainers in the case.

The future looks shaky too for the nationalist marching organisation All Under One Banner. One of its key figures, Neil MacKay (no relation incidentally), made great play on social media of showing support for the Alba Party, attracting ridicule and rage from mainstream Yes voters. Some people who previously took part in the rallies have sworn never to attend again, seeing the organisation tainted by Alba support.

It’s also a rather embarrassing time for what’s been termed the ‘alt-nat blogosphere’ which rallied to Salmond’s party. Their role was seen as a major turn-off factor when it came to Alba, with ordinary voters repelled by a toxic mix of conspiracy theories, hate and bigotry.

There’s speculation that Salmond could have done somewhat better at the polls – despite his own low approval ratings – if he’d wisely kept clear of such characters.

HeraldScotland: Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill

These online voices are really left with nowhere to go now, but further down the rabbit holes they’ve been digging for themselves and their diminishing bands of followers for years. They imagined Nicola Sturgeon ousted from office in the wake of the Salmond inquiries and Alba holding seats in Holyrood. They’ve been repeatedly proved wrong.

The more tricky question regarding the aftermath of Alba is what Sturgeon should do about those thorns in her side, and the side of the SNP, who many suspected of planning to jump ship to Alba, but when the crunch came seemingly lacked the courage to defect.

Although it was all rumour and zero proof, there was intense speculation MPs Angus MacNeil and Joanna Cherry would defect. Both dismissed the idea.

However, previous interventions by Cherry and MacNeil have made life difficult for the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon. Both are seen as having undermined Sturgeon’s leadership, and – whether they like it or not – perceived as central to the long-running civil war within the ranks of the SNP which caused considerable damage to the party.

What’s clear now, though, is that with the defeat of Alba and its rejection by the electorate, Sturgeon is in a strong position to crack down on any dissent in the ranks. It might well become a rather tough season for the SNP’s erstwhile awkward squad.

There were recent reports that Alex Salmond claimed he could have ‘destroyed’ Nicola Sturgeon. The only thing which has been destroyed is Alba’s hopes of gaining any traction with the Scottish people. Salmond, however, insists that his party will “bloom”. The former First Minister is entitled to think what he wishes, but his hopes seem unlikely to be fulfilled.

READ MORE NEIL MACKAY: Salmond's Trumpian circus

Salmond is on much firmer ground with his recent warning that “online warriors” are a problem in modern politics. He’s undoubtedly correct. So it was a little discomfiting to see him in a online discussion say – in jest, it appeared – that “one day I’m going to unleash myself on Twitter now that Donald Trump has created a vacuum for me”.

Salmond still casts a long shadow. The husband of one of the women in the Salmond case recently said that the former First Minister’s return to the political spotlight had left his wife “incapacitated by depression”. We must remember Salmond was cleared of all charges.

Salmond could change a lot if he took just a few simple steps. Apologise for his past behaviour as Nicola Sturgeon has advised him to do, and distance himself from the coterie of extremist voices which surround him. He could also advise the defectors from the SNP to Alba to show the courage of their convictions and face by-election. That way, something may still be salvageable.

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