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Alex Salmond’s debate show on the Edinburgh Fringe, The Ayes Have it, has just finished its run, but the old entertainer can’t help himself. Now he’s doing fortune telling.

“Humza Yousaf and the SNP are on a slippery slope to electoral disaster,” declared Mystic Eck last week, hands fondling his crystal ball as the spirits tipped him the wink.

Unless the SNP let a single pro-independence candidate stand in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election, the rookie First Minister would be “handing the seat to Labour on a platter”.

In fact, intoned Seer Salmond, there was “no surer way of inviting a major reverse in the first significant test” of Mr Yousaf’s leadership. Spooky stuff. Altogether now: Wooo-ooo…

It’s all self-serving of course. Barring the miraculous, Alba will lose both its MPs at the general election and with them lots of public funding. Alas, its appeal to altruism is doomed.

The SNP and Greens didn’t fight to get where they are only to give Alba a hand-out, especially when Mr Salmond calls Mr Yousaf’s minister Patrick Harvie a “total idiot”.

Mr Salmond’s plan for Scotland United candidates to consolidate Yes votes is a non-starter. 

However that doesn’t mean it or his accompanying doomy predictions serve no purpose.

The plan is at least different. Mr Yousaf’s big idea is to claim a mandate for indyref2 on the back of SNP MP numbers in the election, just like his predecessor kept doing to no avail.

Mr Salmond’s pessimistic forecasts also have the ring of truth. The SNP is probably in for a thumping in Rutherglen and a stomping at the general election.

If Mr Yousaf is still in charge for Holyrood 2026, that’ll be another reversal.

Labour’s ascendancy, the waning of all governments over time, and the huge numbers of MPs and MSPs won under Nicola Sturgeon, mean there’s only one way to go. It’s not up.

Mr Salmond isn’t taking a punt when he spies trouble ahead for the SNP, merely stating the obvious, yet this can still niggle away at SNP members, his target audience. 

The former FM seems to have given up on converting Unionists to the cause.  

But SNP members and ex-members frustrated by independence inertia and queasy about financial scandal, they’re a different matter. They’re in play.

Mr Yousaf is in a bind because he cannot agree with his old boss, even when he’s right. 

UnspunAnalysis: Humza Yousaf is likeable, charming and unpopular, what should the SNP do?

If he was realistic about SNP prospects, it would give credence to Mr Salmond’s claim that it was down to the Greens and undermine the Government. So Mr Yousaf ends up in his own Fringe appearances insisting that, despite the polls, the SNP is set to win big.

Yet the more he says it, the naiver he sounds and the shrewder Mr Salmond looks. 

Intended to assert his authority, Mr Yousaf’s gung-ho nonsense only undermines it.

It’s enough to make even loyal SNP supporters wonder if he has what it takes.

Kate Forbes, who almost denied Mr Yousaf the job, sowed her own doubts about him on the Fringe this week when she said that, unlike Mr Salmond, he wasn’t the kind of “natural leader” the Yes movement wanted. Cuttingly, she added the First Minister was “working hard” on it but wasn’t there yet. So categorically not a natural leader, then. 

The Herald:

Mr Salmond and Ms Forbes’s niggles speak to one another. The former suggests Mr Yousaf doesn’t get elections, the latter that his skill set problems are even more profound.

Alba twisted the knife a little more ahead of the Electoral Commission publishing the larger party accounts for 2022 on Thursday, boasting its money and membership were on the up.

It knew the SNP’s accounts would show the bigger party going backward on both counts. 

Again, the core message was that Alba knows its business while the SNP has lost its mojo.

The SNP may not lose many members directly to Alba, but I suspect plenty are listening to the indy upstart and ruefully nodding along. Alba lacks electoral clout but has a definite corrosive power. 

Mr Yousaf is threatened not just by opposition parties, but by a loss of faith within his own.

Meanwhile Ms Forbes waits in the wings, positioning herself as the natural leader the Yes movement is itching for, assisted indirectly by Mr Salmond, who hopes change in the SNP could change his fortunes too. The Fringe is almost over, but the drama has barely begun.

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