THE Scottish council elections had many takeaways: the resilience of the SNP; Labour and Tories switching positions as the latter took a kicking; the Scottish Greens increasing their electoral foothold; and the LibDems holding on and showing some signs of growth.

Another was the failure of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party – discussed yesterday on these pages by George Kerevan. Their failure to elect a single councillor or to return any of the sitting councillors who defected to the party – while achieving a derisory 0.7% of the national vote, just ahead of the Scottish Family Party – raises questions about the party’s viability but also for the wider independence movement.

Alba have had a fair wind since setting up a year ago, attracting much attention and discussion. Indeed, given the now proven level of their support, they have received disproportionate media interest, lots of it admittedly negative.

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Alex Salmond, whatever your view of him personally or as a politician, has made an immense contribution to Scottish politics. But that is in the past. He is now viewed as a hugely toxic public figure by most voters and, to take one example, is more unpopular in Scotland than Boris Johnson pre-partygate which is some kind of accomplishment.

Despite this, Salmond and his brand of populist managerialism have a small constituency of support. But twice now they have been unable to translate that into votes – with a share of 1.7% in 2021 and 0.7% last week, and their highest vote a mere 8.1% in Glasgow’s Southside Central.

It is hard for new political parties to break through and no accident that only two have done so nationwide since the advent of the Scottish Parliament: the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the latter of which imploded.

The fate of Alba now looks to be one beyond such antecedents and more similar to that of two previous parties led by charismatic individuals convinced of the wisdom of their own judgement – the Jim Sillars-led Scottish Labour Party in the 1970s and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity post-SSP.

The academic and labour historian Ewan Gibbs made the following observation: “The comparison between Alba’s failures and Green successes invites another conclusion: politics in Scotland tends to reward long-term institution building while movements based on charismatic personalities have usually been failures.”

Salmond’s explanation of Alba’s failure – that it was down to “the instruction from the SNP leadership not to use preferences to support other independence candidates” – is wrong. It does not explain the success of the Greens both long-term and currently – a pro-independence party which has carved its own identity and support with a record 35 councillors elected last week, including sizeable representation in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

What this tells us is that there is an even more limited constituency for what many people perceive as “bitter” and “vendetta” politics continually attacking the SNP. Similarly, trying to weaponise the trans issue for all the passions it arouses on both sides on social media has not translated into support. This mixture is not the vote-winner some in Alba thought it would be.

Alba’s failure is likely to be enduring. Allan Faulds, who runs the impressive resource Ballot Box Scotland and shamed the BBC and STV with his comprehensive coverage of the local elections, takes the view: “I’m going to be blunt: it’s hard to see how Alba aren’t finished. Their Holyrood debut last year was frankly abysmal.” And now they have gone downhill.

As for any Westminster prospects in 2024 under FPTP, he is even more blunt: “If Alba make it to the next election, it’ll be as a Solidarity-esque ego vehicle for a widely disliked former leader, standing a few no-hope candidates in by-elections and a scattering of wards.”

Where does this leave the cause of independence? First, the failure of Alba leaves the question of how pressure for a referendum is maintained.

A traditional way of doing this is to form a political party and push others by winning seats or taking support – the model Nigel Farage and Ukip used to force the Tories into holding a Brexit referendum. Alba’s failure has shown that this isn’t as easy a task as some presumed it might be.

Secondly, there is a contradiction between micro-parties and independence dynamics. A party like Alba is a niche party aiming for a small, select number of supporters; the Greens can be seen in similar terms but with much more success. These are not parties aiming to be “Big Tent” supported parties such as the SNP. Alba spoke to a select few, but they are not merely mobilising such folk that makes independence win. Rather they are reaching out to the unconvinced, the don’t-knows and even the apolitical. These groups need different messaging and targeting from that which gets the true believers going. And hence Alba were trying to max out part of the base that is not pivotal to how independence becomes a majority.

Thirdly, party-wise there is a political space to the left of the centrist SNP. Currently the Scottish Greens sit within part of it, and RISE tried and failed to energise it. But it is still true that with the decline of Scottish Labour, a market exists for a class-based politics talking about inequality, social justice and privilege.

Fourthly, maybe concentrating on new political parties is the wrong approach. Scotland needs an ecology of independence initiatives which 15 years of SNP rule has not created.

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We are missing a culture of self-determination – what I have called “independence of the Scottish mind”, where we create an array of think tanks, research agencies, publications and campaign groups which give substance to the debate, rather than reducing it to soundbites and empty rhetoric.

A final observation. It is easy to lapse into cynicism and oppositionalism but that doesn’t deliver results and quickly turns sour. Many folk are weary of SNP caution, command-and-control politics and lack of progress on a referendum, but such feelings are not a political strategy. Nor does it help for mainstream commentators such as Iain Macwhirter to describe the SNP’s dominance as “a one-party state” when they won one-third of the popular vote last week. It is inaccurate and plays into a Daily Mail-esque dismissive take of the mosaic of democracy in Scotland.

Independence is about more than the SNP. But it is also about more than political parties, protesting and even marching, not that these should be knocked. To enrich the substance we need to recognise the full array of activities and initiatives which encompass the independence cause and recognise that we need to dig deeper, learn to do politics in myriad different ways, and critically listen to the Scotland beyond the echo chamber that has yet to be convinced. If the failure of Alba teaches us this, then perhaps it could have some positive legacy.