So it wasn’t so much a ‘supermajority’ it was more electoral ignominy. Coming in at 1.7% the Alba Party didn’t rise like a phoenix but sank like a stone. For all the brave talk of taking out unionist MSPs the only thing Alba demonstrated was that there was little enthusiasm for an alternative independence party, particularly one led by Alex Salmond.
So what went wrong for Alba, and what awaits them in the future now they plan to become a permanent feature in the Scottish political firmament and contest next year’s council elections?
The first basic and obvious problem was Alex himself. People weren’t just put off by him they were genuinely contemptuous of his return. As a former colleague it was actually hard to listen to some of things said about Alex on the doorstep from people who had once held him in such high regard.
Alex was simultaneously the best hope for an alternative independence party but at the same time the main reason for its inevitable failure. He was the only figure with the skills, the panache and the reach within the fringes of the movement to energise and mobilise a base. But it was only Alex with ratings worse than Boris Johnson that would ensure its inevitable electoral demise.
And then there was ‘the base’ itself. If ever there was a group of people purpose built to turn people away it was the people Alex assembled to prepare and promote the Alba message. The intolerant ensemble of ‘bloggers’, anti SNP malcontents and anti GRA obsessives provided an unpalatable coalition that became the face of the campaign. On top of that were a set of candidates with views that ranged from the naive to the offensive. There was little about the assembled forces of Alba that could be in the slightest bit described as ‘user friendly’. It seemed the more the party was exposed to the public the more unpopular they became. For all their complaining about a ‘media blackout’ the lack of any real media attention probably spared them from an even worse electoral outcome.
Their campaign, when it had anything approaching a coherent theme, was a curious mish mash of romantic nationalism, EU scepticism and indy impatience combined with the bloggers deeply held social conservatism. With videos on Calton Hill narrated by a would be Robert the Bruce it felt like a pitch to the SNP of the 1970s more than an attempt to appeal to a middle Scotland of the 2020s. Then there was their anti woke obsessions which inevitably led to preposterous and embarrassing claims that the Scottish Government wanted to reduce the age of consent, ensuring anybody remotely committed to equality issues was immediately alienated. The only story the public wanted to hear from Alba was the issues around Alex’s trial and this was the one thing that Alba definitely did not want anybody going anywhere near.
But it was all about the ‘supermajority’. The idea that list votes for the SNP were wasted votes and that SNP supporters should vote Alba to secure a next to unionist free Parliament. With this simple message Alba supporters predicted MSP numbers into the 20s or even 30s. They assumed that SNP voters would forgive them the awful campaign, set aside the concerns about Alex and compliantly back them in their social conservative agenda. The truth is that none of that was ever likely to happen and the more the SNP support seemed to shun Alba’s ‘inescapable logic’ the angrier Alba activists seemed to get with them in return. The idea that cajoling, abusing and shouting at people you were hoping to win over and vote for you was perhaps one of the most curious electoral strategies deployed at this or any election.
There was also the absurd expectation that the SNP simply roll over and ‘gift’ list votes to a party composed of people who had spent the best part of a year trying to undermine and bring down the SNP leadership. The idea that the SNP would take anything for granted and not fight for every single vote was just another symptom of Alba’s naivety and bizarre sense of entitlement.
And what exactly were they going to do with this ‘supermajority’ anyway? Unhappy at the independence ‘gradualism’ (that Alex himself invented) they were going to head down to London and negotiate our nation’s independence in the first week after the election! We were invited to believe that a Tory Government, hitherto disinclined to facilitate a referendum, would get round the table with the Scottish Government to start planning the end of the UK simply because Alex Salmond and some of his colleagues had got elected! It was all simply unbelievable, and SNP voters knew that.
Then as the polls started to predict Alba’s inevitable collapse the ‘supermajority’ quickly gave way to a much more modest and realistic parliamentary ‘bridgehead’. This gave SNP voters the opportunity to decide whether they wanted a small, unruly, presence in Parliament constantly attempting to undermine the First Minister and the SNP Government whilst trying to create all sorts of divisions on how independence is secured. The ordinary SNP voter quickly decided that this was indeed something they did not want.
But in all of the talk about gaming systems what Alba did do, entirely inadvertently, was to draw attention to how the list vote could be used. Constantly being told that an SNP list vote was a ‘wasted vote’ some independence supporters did indeed look into the list electoral market place. What they concluded was that there was no way they could ever support a party such as Alba but could give their list vote to the Greens instead. The rise of the Green vote probably owes more to Alba than any other party and after all the disgusting slandering of the Greens by Alba supporters this must be one of the most bitter ironies of Alba’s ill fated emergence.
So what now for the Alba Party? Well, the plan is to hold a conference and contest next year’s council elections. I’m not entirely sure whether there will be plans to secure ‘supermajorities’ on Scotland’s councils but I am absolutely certain it will allow them the opportunity to continue to attack the now ‘loathed’ Scottish Government and progress their unrealistic independence strategies. Their main thinking will be that there are second SNP votes to harvest, and liberated from having to insist on a ‘first vote SNP’ it is going to be decidedly unpleasant and damaging. Then there is the rest of their policy agenda and obsessions. We got a glimpse of some of that when some of Alba’s key bloggers made common cause with the Scottish Family Party to attack sex education in schools. The social conservatism is likely to be ramped up as their defining ‘non-independence’ feature and god knows what other issues are in their sights. The impact of all of this on the equalities debate in Scotland will be to reduce it to an even more intolerant and ugly place as a result.
I suspect that the ordinary SNP voter will continue to be unpersuaded by these Alba charms and Alba has probably reached the ceiling of its support. The problem for Alba is that they sincerely believe that what they observe on the Twitter feeds of their house bloggers is somehow representative of real world Scotland. Even after the humbling they received a few weeks ago the capacity for self delusion remains undiminished and the fault for their thrashing is all the SNP’s and absolutely nothing to do with them.
Alba may be here to stay but they are only ever going to sustain a meagre existence on the very fringe of our politics, and thank goodness for that.