The smell of blood is in the air – and votes. 

Opposition parties at Westminster and Holyrood are relishing the pain of the governing side and wondering how to make the most of it at the general election.

In London, the feuding between an increasingly flaky Boris Johnson and an ever more exasperated Rishi Sunak has Labour demanding an early poll to spike the civil war.

North of the border, Nicola Sturgeon’s arrest and release without charge has Unionists demanding her suspension, while accusing Humza Yousaf of being too weak to do it.

Even before Sunday’s police developments, Alex Salmond’s Alba Party was seeking to exploit the SNP’s travails with a butter-wouldn’t-melt offer of an electoral pact.

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If the pro-independence parties agreed to field a single “Scotland United” candidate in each seat it would maximise the number of Yes MPs, Mr Salmond argued.

“At a stroke, the entire dynamic of the election will change,” he said in a letter to Mr Yousaf.

“Election debate will be centred on independence and how to get it, and not on the record or current internal difficulties of Scotland’s major party,” he added cattily.

Some SNP politicians, oddly those closest to Mr Salmond in the first place, said the proposal ought to get a hearing. What’s to lose, they said.

Others, such as the veteran MP Pete Wishart, were withering.  

“We'd be severely punished by the Scottish electorate if we partnered with a toxic party on two per cent of the vote that has never won an elected representative in any election,” he said.

So where does the truth lie? Not in the middle.

Mr Salmond says his plan would deliver a “very substantial advantage” to independence parties in general, but it is clear the biggest advantage would be to his own.

Alba is facing a crisis at the general election.

The party is set to lose both its MPs, Neale Hanvey in Kirkcaldy and Kenny MacAskill in East Lothian, who were elected under an SNP banner in 2019 then defected.

The Herald:

Without them, Alba loses a lot of public money. Like other parties with two or more MPs, it gets an annual policy development grant from the Electoral Commission.

In 2022/23 this was worth £145,281, making the Commission its biggest donor by far. 

Losing its MPs would also leave Alba in the embarrassing position of not having a single elected representative. Not a convincing look for a would-be earth shaker.

Through defections, the party did have a handful of councillors before last year’s local elections, but they all retired or lost their seats. Indeed, all 111 Alba candidates lost.

So the election promises to drain Alba of cash, kudos and credibility. (Pity SNP MSP Ash Regan, who will come under huge pressure from Mr Salmond to defect next).

Hence the obsession with a pact that would oblige the SNP to step aside in Kirkcaldy, East Lothian and elsewhere to give Alba’s candidates a clear run. Possibly one A. Salmond.

Besides the naked self-interest, the plan is suspect numerically.

It is hard to be precise about numbers as the Westminster boundaries are being redrawn, with Scotland dropping from 59 seats to 57.

But based on the 2019 results, a Scotland United pact looks pointless. 

As Alba didn’t exist then, the Greens were the only notable Yes party standing against the SNP, and they were largely irrelevant, losing their deposits in all 22 seats they contested.

In 19, the SNP won comfortably despite them. While in the two of the 22 won by Unionists – Edinburgh South (Labour) and Edinburgh West (Liberal Democrat) – the Unionist lead eclipsed the Green vote, and so even if it had gone to the SNP, the SNP would still have lost.

Only in East Dunbartonshire was the Green vote more than the winning majority, but as it was an SNP gain, adding in the Green vote would only have made a Yes win bigger. 

In no seat did splitting the vote between Yes parties...

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