Advantage and how to waste it

Big changes are only hope of survival for Alex Salmond’s Alba party

George Kerevan

It was ever thus, George. It was ever thus. Alba Party was doomed from the outset. It was never going to amount to so much as the merest shadow of what the party’s members had convinced themselves it could be. But it would be unjust to lay the blame for this at the feet of Alex Salmond. Alba’s biggest problem is not the public perception of Alex Salmond. Public perceptions are malleable. Alba has amounted to nothing because the party leapt into the electoral arena portraying itself as an alternative to the SNP while failing utterly to distinguish itself from the SNP. To be an alternative, you have to offer something different. Alba simply hasn’t done that. Yesterday’s SNP warmed over was never going to inspire anything other than general ennui.

Alex Salmond is to blame only insofar as he has allowed this to happen. As party leader, the buck stops with him. Nonetheless, he could yet be a valuable asset. It is certainly the case that “Alba urgently needs to reassess its political model”. Whether it needs to also reassess its present leadership is more open to question. When that political model is reassessed it will remain to be presented and sold to the public. That is Salmond’s forte. Changing the leader could look like a panic reaction and suggest a reluctance to face the real problem. And it is obvious what that problem is.

Alba was marketed as the party with a radical approach to the constitutional issue which contrasts starkly with the hyper-caution of the SNP under Sturgeon. The trouble is, not only could Alba not do what it said on the tin, there was nothing in the tin. It was supposed to attract voters who wanted to put pressure on the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government. But it had no credible explanation as to how this would be done. The whole ‘supermajority’ thing was pure fantasy politics. I doubt if many voters actually examined the ‘plan’ sufficiently to realise that it couldn’t work. But the indications are that the electorate sensed as much – if only because of the way it was over-hyped. People tend to be dubious about things that seem too good to be true – even if only at an instinctive level.

Getting into a position to put pressure on the SNP by way of electoral success was always a non-starter. The obsession with winning elections is something that Salmond seems to have brought with him from the SNP. Barring something truly miraculous, the electoral route takes too long. Alba set out to do in one election – and as a newborn party – what any dispassionate commentator would reckon needed at least three and probably more like five or six. The party set itself the task of convincing large numbers of people that Alex Salmond could work miracles. The perceptual gulf between tainted (however unfairly) politician and miracle-worker was never going to be bridged. I don’t know what it would take. But I do know that it’s more than Alba had/has at its disposal.

What advantage does a fringe party with no hope of being in government have over the party of government and credible challengers for that status? The same advantage as all fringe opposition parties enjoy. They can promise anything. Well, not quite anything. Credibility is required even if it is not as essential as it would be were the fringe party to have any realistic prospects of the power that would engender expectation of delivery. It is nonetheless a fact that parties such as Alba can do and say things that what are usually referred to as the ‘main’ parties cannot. The party that has a high probability of being in government is constrained by the expectation of delivery. Fringe parties are free from such constraints. What limits them is only the bounds of public credulity. Fringe parties can afford to be bold whereas ‘main’ parties are forced to be cautious. The more importance they attach to electoral success, the greater the tendency to extreme caution.

Alba failed to exploit this advantage. Its supporters frantically talked up its radicalism on the constitutional issue. But there was no big idea. Or at least none that didn’t smell of snake-oil. There was nothing that made Alba vividly distinct from the SNP.

There were other mistakes. Alba was too easily portrayed as anti-SNP. Much of the rhetoric was unmistakably anti-SNP. Back to the instincts of the dumb beast that is the electorate. That beast intuitively realises that you can be non-SNP and pro-independence but you cannot be anti-SNP and pro-independence. People understand that the SNP is crucial in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Even if they don’t, they are told that it is and have no inclination to go to the effort of thinking about the matter for themselves. At the moment when Alba needed to be carefully tending to the first impressions that would fix it in the minds of voters, it was instead fighting an election campaign. And doing so very badly.

Basically, Alba should not have been focused on winning electoral contests. It should instead have been campaigning for a rethink of the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue. It should have been saying the things that independence activists fervently wish they might hear from the mouth of Nicola Sturgeon. It should have been offering the boldness and imagination that would set it apart from the blandness and banality of the SNP. It should have been asking the questions that make the SNP uncomfortable. It should have been demanding the action that the SNP is so very reluctant to take.

A good starting point would have been to come out explicitly against the Section 30 process. Alba could have been the party telling the public that requesting a Section 30 order must never happen. Forcing the SNP to either justify such a ‘demand’ or repudiate the Section 30 process altogether. Instead, Alba either went along with the Section 30 ‘plan’ or was maybe a bit ambivalent about it. Nothing there to make headlines.

Alba set out to put pressure on the SNP by becoming a credible electoral competitor – and do so in a single bound. Alba’s opportunity lay in making itself a goad to prick and taunt the SNP. That opportunity, like so many over the past ten years, was unforgivably squandered.

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31 thoughts on “Advantage and how to waste it

  1. Political parties are like products, you need a target market and you need the right marketing to attract any customers. While I agree / don’t disagree with your assessment of Alba I think focussing on the constitutional issue would have attracted only a tiny fraction of the votes it has amassed to date. That’s just the nature of the marketplace we have today. Instead the constitutional issue is more the territory of the likes of Now Scotland or some other pressure group which can put a spotlight on the issue and demand the pro-independence parties address the issue seriously.

    Alba would seem to be more a party-in-waiting ready to catch any pieces flying in it’s direction if the SNP self-destructs. If that does not happen then it’s no big deal. It’s still way better than sitting on your hands waiting for the SNP leadership, who’ve raised the drawbridge to listening to anybody except themselves, to actually do something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My point was that Alba should have been more like Now Scotland was originally intended to be. I have now quit that group. When I joined it was on the basis that it would be a group exclusively focused on the constitutional issue. It took about five minutes for folk to start attaching their own agendas. Now Scotland started issuing statements that were as much about the environment and climate change as about the constitutional issue. So I left.

      That point was that Alba should not have been selling itself as an electoral product. It might have been better had it not been a political party at all. But given that it was it had to be a party fighting for an idea and not for votes. It should have been putting pressure on the SNP by being a pressure group and home to all the dissenting voices in the independence movement.

      Success for Alba should never have been measured in terms of vote share won. Success should have been measured in the number of times it made the SNP leadership blush or squirm.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Isn’t the situation with Now just history repeating itself. Maybe the only way to stop individuals pressing their own agendas is to make them take an oath that independence is their be all and end all. I’m being facetious of course – that would never work as they’d have their fingers crossed behind their backs!


        1. It’s a simple enough matter of writing into the organisation’s constitution that it exists solely and exclusively for the purpose of advancing the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Standing orders for meetings and conferences would oblige the convener to rule out of order any breach of this stipulation.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I have to agree with you Peter. I was a founding member of Alba but previously had never been a member of the SNP. My reason for joining was because I thought the new party would concentrate solely on independence and once we had achieved that all the other isms and issues could be decided by the Scottish people. However as the months went on it seemed that the majority of the discussions were about the GRA and in attacking the SNP’s stance. It was a proxy war by ex SNP members against their previous party. It was also obvious that Alba had fallen into the Westminster electoral game and was offering no real alternative on routes to independence. The final straw for me was when Neil’s Harvey made his statement on Ukraine war. Again it was playing Westminster politics rather than emphasising the impact the conflict might have on the Scottish people. At that point I accepted Alba was no different from any other party

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “… A good starting point would have been to come out explicitly against the Section 30 process. Alba could have been the party telling the public that requesting a Section 30 order must never happen. Forcing the SNP to either justify such a ‘demand’ or repudiate the Section 30 process altogether. Instead, Alba either went along with the Section 30 ‘plan’ or was maybe a bit ambivalent about it. Nothing there to make headlines… ”

    Yes, Peter, this. If people have to make the choice between a big party in power and a wee tiddler just starting out, and with the same policy on independence, they are going to choose the big one. That was a fundamental mistake. I don’t think that ALBA should even think of ditching Alec Salmond, but I do think he should step into President of the party mode and give his expertise and use his astute politicians’s brain from behind the leadership, just as Sinn Fein has both a leader and a President. I know that Alec Salmond is a front-line person, but he is so far from being stupid that I believe he will come to such a decision himself. Sinn Fein won in NI using the NI Protocol, a constitutional tool and not an independence policy. When Johnson comes to ditch that Protocol, the NI party will be in a position to exploit that arrogant and dismissive attitude to NI, as some, more moderate Unionists are beginning to see themselves as Irish before British.

    The other thing that, strange as it might seem, I think that the female part of the party that is focused on the trans issue needs to separate it from the constitutional issue. The former needs to be an issue on which it is mainly women who fight, with, of course, the party’s full backing and help as a main policy issue, if female voters are to be pulled back into the constitutional issue. These two issues are inextricably linked, and going for independence without its being resolved will simply alienate the female vote for constitutional change. Too many men in the independence movement just don’t get it because they have never had to fight for their fundamental human rights, except for working-class men in the past who were supported absolutely by their womenfolk. Remember the miners’ strike? Remember both world wars? Women will never forgive a betrayal by the men of the wider independence movement or the SNP. Gay men should remember how gay women, and even straight women, supported them, too. I think a great deal of the SNP’s success in this, and the last, election, was down to men going along with SNP policy at any cost to women and girls and children in the deluded hope that Nicola Sturgeon will fulfil their dreams. She won’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You should start an Anti-Gender-Recognition-Act-Reform Party: They would probably get about as many votes. No matter who was the Party Leader.

      And that’s not a joke.


      1. Independence and the GRA Reform proposals are inextricably linked for the very simple reason that independence and the women’s vote is inextricably linked. The GRA reforms mean self-ID. When Nicola Sturgeon claims that women’s and girls’ rights and spaces will not be affected, she is lying through her pearly whites, just as she is lying about the referendum. She knows that this will devastate female rights and spaces because the vast majority of females do not want men anywhere near their spaces and rights. Women are 51-52% of the human race. Without the women’s vote, independence is dead in the water. No ifs, no doubts. It is dead in the water.

        Having said that, if ALBA fights a two-pronged fight, one prong on overcoming Westminster via the constitutional tools at our disposal rather than a referendum we will never get and which is totally unnecessary, anyway, and the other prong on overcoming the trans lobby’s hold on Scottish politics, civil institutions, educational institutions, etc., they might have a chance of getting somewhere – precisely because they are offering alternatives to the SNP. This will involve being very unkind indeed – almost as unkind to the hundreds and hundreds of autogynephiles as they are to women, grabbing their hard-won rights for themselves without a by-your-leave – by pressing home that the majority are autogynephiles (sexual fetishists). Trans identified people already have all their rights, but they want all of female rights, too. That is what ALBA have yet to do and why they are being ignored: they are simply not offering an alternative, not putting the SNP under pressure.

        The other point that few have mentioned in their desperation for a referendum is that it is very likely to be unwinnable and a mish-mash of nonsense. The independence movement will not recover from a second blow like the last. Hard truths have to be faced now: a) the SNP Holyrood contingent is as much a hindrance to independence as the Unionists are; b) there is not going to be any independence until we are all willing to stand up and be counted on the constitution; c) no independence movement in the history of independence movements has ever gained independence by the SNP method (or the ALBA one either, which is virtually identical). All that a pre independence referendum will do is afford the same opportunity to vote it down as the 2014 did. It is delusion not to admit that these facts exist.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry Peter, OT but I have to comment on something else.

    I am sick of feminism and stupid glass ceilings, but I am even more sick that there is still such a need for it. From the National:

    Scottish Football Writers Association sorry after female writers walk out of event.

    THE organisers of a sports journalism awards ceremony have issued an apology after a keynote speaker was accused of making “sexist and racist jokes”.

    Female journalists took to social media on Sunday night to express their concerns over the Scottish Football Writers’ Awards event, with the BBC’s Eilidh Barbour saying she had “never felt so unwelcome in the industry”.

    Presuming it was a male made the speech, I feel sorry that he has such a small member, and feel sorry for all the males who sat there laughing, males who clearly don’t have any sphericals as they were too afraid to boo the misogynist off the stage and out of the building.

    Who are these craven wimps who have no principles and no humanity?


    1. I might have commented on this, but I have no idea what was said. And I’ve learned to be very wary of accusations of misogyny. I suspect there’s more to this story than is being told.


      1. Yes, we could do with some examples. From elsewhere:

        In a statement, the SFWA said: ‘The Scottish Football Writers’ Association apologises to anyone offended or upset by material from one of our after-dinner speakers at last night’s annual awards dinner.

        ‘We have agreed unanimously that this will act as a catalyst to review and improve the format of our future events to make it an enjoyable and inspirational event for all.’

        and ex criminal barrister Bill Copeland apologised for any offence he might have caused, but failed to apologise for not engaging brain before mouth.


        1. It would be useful if someone were to provide a list of the things we ARE allowed to joke about. Surely there has to be some licence for humour just as there is artistic licence in other branches of art and entertainment.

          Everyone is entitled to a life free from oppression. Nobody is entitled to a life free of offence.

          The walls of intolerance are closing in!


          1. It’s context Peter, or location.

            If you go to a comedy show, the comedian might ask “Anyone from Hilltown, Beith, Morningside”. People put up their hands. “Who did you have to mug to buy the tickets?”.

            But if you go to an award ceremony with your peers, your colleagues, maybe to get an award or to see who did, relax, catch up, why should YOU be the butt of some idiot’s jokes because of your sex, religion, ethnicity, colour, ability or even age?


            1. It’s context, you say. Then completely ignore the context of a dinner and an after-dinner speaker. Or maybe you’re just not familiar with that kind of occasion.


              1. I didn’t realise I had to detail the obvious context of people going to a comedy show, do so voluntarily expecting sexism, racism, sectarianism and all the rest of it, maybe even aimed at them. It’s what the comedian is all about. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to go.

                Whereas an award ceremony, where the prime purpose is the awards (any dinner is secondary), could reasonably be expected to be about – awards. People go there to get – awards in their industry – or see others get – awards.

                This from you:

                Or maybe you’re just not familiar with that kind of occasion.

                shows that subsconciously you understand perfectly what the diffference is – let your inner self feed your comprehension 🙂

                It seems the Scottish Football Writers’ Association may have copped on as well, that it’s about awards not insecure middle-aged white men with prejudices, as they have promised a review of future events.


                  1. What do you imagine award ceremonies are for? Is it:

                    A). Dinner
                    B). Bill Copeland
                    C). Being abused by some insecure moron
                    D). Awards

                    You have all your lifelines, do you want 50-50, call a friend or ask Jeremy Clarkson?


                  2. You used your 50-50. You are left with:

                    B). Bill Copeland
                    D). Awards

                    Do you want to use any more lifelines? You have call a friend or ask Jeremy Clarkson.


                  3. Are you having some kind of ‘episode’?

                    Just trying to help you Peter. Abuse is the last resort of the incompetent, as far as debate is concerned. I was hoping you’d moved on from that.


                1. Not in my experience. Certainly no more than women belittle men. Mostly, it’s harmless. Occasionally lines are crossed. What has changed in my lifetime is that for men those lines have become much clearer whereas for women old lines have been at least partially erased and new ones have yet to be drawn. A generalisation based on personal experience, I know. But you did ask.


  4. Whatever. Pondering about the Alba Party is a bit anal.

    Here are the first-preference results for Edinburgh Leith Walk. The Communist Party, the Scottish Family Party, the Socialist Labour Party, and the Woman’s Equality Party should be getting the same level of coverage as the Alba Party….

    Jack CALDWELL Scottish Liberal Democrats 1,317
    James DALGLEISH Labour and Co-operative Party 2,058
    Scottish Family Party Pro-Family, ProMarriage, Pro-Life
    Bonus FOMBO Scottish Conservative and Unionist 763
    David Don JACOBSEN Socialist Labour Party 113
    Amy MCNEESE-MECHAN Scottish National Party (SNP) 2,248
    Rob MUNN Scottish National Party (SNP) 1,132
    Freedom Alliance. Real People. Real
    Susan RAE Scottish Green Party 2,847
    David RENTON Women’s Equality Party 98
    Richard Charles SHILLCOCK Communist Party of Britain 119
    Joe SMITH Alba Party for independence 135


      1. Who the fuck are you? Why did you think I was fuckin bothering to fuckin talk about you in fuckin particular? Fuckin wise up likes speky.


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