NICOLA Sturgeon’s aim of staging a second referendum on Scottish independence by the end of 2023 “does not look particularly credible” or “particularly likely,” Alex Salmond has suggested.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald ahead of the Alba Party conference at Glasgow’s Hampden Park tomorrow, its leader appeared frustrated by the SNP leadership’s “deficiencies” in promoting the case for independence over recent years.

And he revealed, to coincide with his party’s showcase event, a 38-page Wee Alba Book would be published to make the “fundamental case for independence,” covering issues such as Europe, currency and borders.

It would update the arguments for independence to address the political, economic and social changes that have occurred since 2014.

HeraldScotland:

Some 100,000 copies of the booklet will be distributed from next month with the hope of a second edition later.

In a clear dig at the First Minister, Mr Salmond complained how there was currently no proper campaign strategy for Scottish independence, noting: “Where is that campaign? I have not seen it. I think I’ve missed it.”

He noted: “It seems unlikely that Boris Johnson is going to meekly say to the Scottish Government: ‘Well done, chaps, you can now have a referendum and I am changing my mind on the issue.’ Therefore, you have to campaign to change his mind and have a series of contingencies as to what you do if Westminster says no.”

The Alba leader did not elaborate on the contingencies but stressed it was imperative a campaign strategy was formulated to “bend Westminster to the will of the Scottish people” and, to this end, the party would be calling for a convention, following the May local elections, to produce such a strategy, involving pro-independence politicians and civic Scotland.

The ex-FM explained the convention would be the “instrument by which the campaign to secure the democratic test for Scotland will be led”.

With Ms Sturgeon raising the hope Indyref2 was just over the horizon almost on an annual basis, Mr Salmond declared: “There’s a huge amount of impatience among independence supporters because the latest promise of a referendum in 2023 looks pretty optimistic, to say the least.”

HeraldScotland:

He pointed out how 12 months before the 2014 referendum “we had the legislation through, the date set, the preparations made…All the plans were in place as they could be but none of that has[now] happened; not even the agreement to have the referendum in the first place…

“The idea of a referendum next year, for many people looking at it, doesn’t look particularly credible.”

When it was pointed out how Kevin Pringle, his former adviser, had suggested Indyref2 was “unlikely to take place by the end of next year, given the hurdles to be overcome and extensive preparations required,” Mr Salmond admitted: “It doesn’t look particularly likely.”

Two years on from the dramatic trial, which saw him cleared of all allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him and which completed the shattering of the Sturgeon-Salmond political friendship, the Alba leader insisted he was more interested in describing how the new party could further the independence cause rather than taking “potshots” at his onetime close colleague.

Mr Salmond was keen to stress how the democratic case for Scottish independence had to be “refurbished for the modern age, for the new realities of politics”.

He explained how in 2014 it was credible to argue an independent Scotland should continue as a member of the EU but, post Brexit, the situation was different and it could take Edinburgh a “number of years” to successfully apply for membership.

“Which is why the lack of thinking which has been done or, if it has been done, it certainly hasn’t been publicised, is all the more apparent and why Alba is putting forward a prospectus that Scotland should immediately apply for EFTA membership, which is a matter of months in terms of being achievable…It’s a much more credible position.”

On currency, the party leader said the situation had also changed from 2014 when, because Scotland along with the rest of the UK was in the single market, it was sensible to keep the pound. But, post Brexit, the case for having an independent Scottish currency was “much, much stronger, much, much earlier”.

Mr Salmond brushed aside fears an independent Scotland would face a crippling 20%-plus budget deficit, insisting the Wee Alba Book “dismantles the Gers formulation and explains why it’s not relevant to the finances of an independent country”.

The booklet “suggests Scotland would be well able to cope as every other country is having to do with a deficit…You should in these circumstances, in these times, in this post-Covid age, certainly borrow but you should borrow in your own currency and not somebody else’s”.

When it was pointed out how the year-old Alba Party had hardly set the electoral heather on fire – it has no MSPs, two MPs who defected from the SNP and 16 councillors, most of whom are SNP defectors – Mr Salmond bristled.

“In a way, I think of Alba’s role now as a bit akin to the relationship between the SNP and the Labour Party in 1990s. Whereas Labour was the dominant party by far, the SNP were nipping at their heels. Every time the SNP made any sort of political breakthrough, in the opinion polls or won a by-election or even came close in a by-election, the minds of the Labour Party were concentrated wonderfully on their historic mission for Scottish home rule.”

He went on: “The SNP in the 1990s was already 60 years old before it started to challenge the Labour Party. In one year, to go from nothing to 6,700 members is a significant achievement and we will have more than 100 candidates in the field in the local elections in May. That is also a significant presence of candidates and shows Alba is emerging as a political force.”

Asked what gave him hope he would see an independent Scotland in his lifetime, the 67-year-old former SNP leader paused and said: “Well, I suppose because when I started out in politics back in the 1980s, independence was, even by those avidly in favour of it, regarded as a romantic pipedream…

“I think I read it in The Herald that a substantial majority of Scottish public expect Scotland to be independent at some point over the next decade. That is a world-changing epoch-making transformation in attitudes so I would say, assuming I can last for a decade, I would have thought the expectation would be for most people in Scotland that it would become an independent country.

“But it won’t happen by itself, no more than it changed from the 1980s to where we are now. It changes via campaigning. There is nothing written in the laws of nature that having got to where we are Scotland shall, therefore, become an independent country.

“To become an independent country, you have to make the argument and create the circumstances by which Scotland can achieve that goal and that is down to the efforts of those in the National movement as it was back in the 1980s when, incidentally, the SNP in terms of membership were rather smaller than Alba is now.”