ALEX Salmond has said he will wait to see “what the odds come up” before betting on his two Alba MPs keeping their seats – arguing the party’s real ambitions are for the next Scottish Parliament elections.

The Alba leader admitted his party currently lacked “credibility” and said he was determined to build it up to gain a target of more than 20 MSPs at the next Holyrood vote.

Salmond, speaking exclusively to The National in a London hotel, also said he hoped the SNP would accept Joanna Cherry’s conference motion – which he considers a de facto endorsement of his Scotland United coalition plan for the next election – though he expected party members would not.

Asked if he would put money on Kenny MacAskill (below) and Neale Hanvey holding on to their seats at the next election, the Alba leader – a former horse racing tipster for The Herald – said he would wait to see the odds.

The National: Kenny MacAskill

“I’m not betting on Kenny and Neale to hold their seats, because I haven’t seen any odds to do it,” he said.

“I shall be campaigning for them to hold their seats.

“Let’s see what the odds come up, I’ve got every confidence. I mean, if people want to do it on performance and work rate, then they’ll both be quids in to hold their seats.

“Kenny has been conducting down here a one-man campaign on Scotland’s energy potential, a campaign that should be conducted by another 40 MPs, but I don’t see much sign of them doing it.

“And Neale’s profile has been extremely high on sovereignty and the constitution and the issues which you would have thought would have preoccupied the SNP parliamentary group at Westminster.

“So I think they are both exemplary parliamentarians. We will try and hold their seats, we will try – we will stand if, as you suspect and I suspect, the SNP decide not to go down the route of co-operation on a Scotland United ticket, then we’ll have a fairly widespread intervention in next year’s election, which is about building up the voting base and credibility base of the Alba Party.

“But our target as a party, and I’ve never made any bones about it, is the next Scottish elections.”

He added: “We have to have candidates of calibre and interest, not just the parliamentarians we have now but people who have a significant say in Scottish society and are the sort of people you might think about voting for, that’s a job that Alba have to bring forward.”

Salmond acknowledged Alba had to build up their profile and credibility – the party recently hailed a poll which put them on course to pick up 4% of the vote – if they wanted to mount a serious challenge to the SNP in future.

'A credible alternative'

He said: “If Alba is to be successful, it has to be a credible alternative. But once it gets credibility, there’s no shortage of a reservoir of people who will vote for us.

“It could take decades or alternatively it could be in time for the next Scottish Parliament election.

“I think it will be in time for the next Scottish elections. If I were to devise a system which allowed a breakthrough to take place, I would devise the Holyrood regional list.

“You couldn’t get a better system in terms of offering an option for Alba. And much easier than what we [the SNP] had to do in the 1990s – remember we were contesting first-past-the-post elections against the Labour Party and telling people to vote for us in circumstances where in about 60 of the 71 seats, we had no chance at all.”

He added: “Alba has to reinforce some of the campaigning and issues that it’s done, like on the energy issue where we’ve established a strong profile and we have to do that across a range of other issues and certainly, I would agree, we have to broaden from, as the, well I’m hoping the issue will not dominate Scottish politics over the next two years, in terms of the trans debate.

“But I want Alba to be seen in the round in terms of its policy proposals. In other words, not just in our defence of women’s rights – which we’ll continue to do – but on a range of issues in terms of our approach to poverty, our approach to economic growth and our approach to profile.”

Salmond said he believed Alba could increase their share of the vote at the next Scottish Parliament elections from the 1.66% they achieved last time to 15%.

Scottish Parliament is the focus

Asked whether he would try make a return to Westminster, Salmond said: “I have no plans in that direction but I’m not ruling it out.

“Because the basic target that I’ve got is the Scottish elections in two and a half years’ time when I think Alba will take a minimum of 15% of the vote and will have a minimum of 24 MSPs.

“All I think Alba needs is credibility and if we convince people that we’ve got a message and are credible and on that message, then I think we’ll do very well. 15% is not a huge target, incidentally.”

The re-entry of the former first minister to Holyrood, along with other Alba candidates, would be a chance to put “a few adults back in the room”, according to Salmond, at a time when people's faith in the abilities of the Scottish Government is deflating.

He said: “Some other people might say that the Scottish Parliament could do with some political nous and experience at the present moment, they might even say they could do with a few adults back in the room to run things because there’s precious little sign – in a range of activities – that the people who are in charge at the present moment could run a tap.”

The National: Humza Yousaf

Salmond said he has repeatedly reached out to SNP leader Humza Yousaf (above) to win him over to the idea of the Scotland United ticket.

Scotland United would see all pro-independence parties co-ordinate their election campaigns and make the next General Election a de facto referendum on independence.

In Salmond’s terms, this would see the SNP given a free run by Alba and the Greens at the Westminster seats they already hold, while the favour would be returned in Hanvey and MacAskill’s seats of Kirkcaldy and East Lothian, respectively.

His critics say Alba is are insignificant political force with a toxic brand which could repel potential independence supporters.

Salmond hit back at the suggestion, saying Alba was less toxic than the Greens.

“In the latest YouGov popularity polls, I’m twice as popular as Patrick Harvie (below),” he said.

The National: Patrick Harvie

“So if they can be in Government with Patrick Harvie, they can have a Scotland United coalition with a range of interests.

“Not that Patrick Harvie’s that popular, incidentally, but I merely make the point.”

According to YouGov’s website, Salmond holds a popularity rating of 12% to Harvie’s 9%.

To some observers, Alba's credibility was dealt a blow following the expulsion of Angus MacNeil from the SNP.

Despite his ideological closeness to Salmond, MacNeil has so far chosen not to join the party and instead sits as an independent.

Asked whether this was embarrassing for Alba, Salmond said: “Of course not, if I were Angus MacNeil and I had been unjustly treated by the SNP because of the rugged defence of my constituents on fishing, in particular, but also on ferries, then I would see standing as an independent in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, would be a very reasonable thing to do.”