THIS weekend will see the Alba Party gather in Lochgelly for its Spring Campaign Conference, as a prelude to the General Election.

The crisis in the SNP – leading to Humza Yousaf’s resignation and the coronation of John Swinney as new First Minister – brought Alba an unexpected publicity boost.

The party’s sole MSP, Ash Regan (below), seemed to hold Yousaf’s future in her hands for a day or two, while Alba leader Alex Salmond was hardly off the box giving his opinion on the state of play.

The National: Ash Regan

Like it or not, Alba’s name recognition shot up overnight. But was this just a blip? As it transpired, Humza preferred resignation to doing a deal with Regan.

And the latest polls (post Swinney’s re-emergence) still put Alba on only 3% of the popular vote.

OK, that’s a more positive showing but at that rate the party still won’t win seats. Also, the rise in Alba’s political visibility – especially the media rehabilitation of Alex Salmond, who is on peak form – produced a wave of vitriol from some elements in the SNP.

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That said, Alba today have started to mature and cohere as a political formation since their sudden appearance three years ago. Founded in the wake of Salmond’s estrangement from the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, and his acquittal on sexual offence charges, the party looked to some like either a revenge project or a one-man band.

And as with any new political party, Alba attracted its share of misfits and opportunists. But three years on, the organisation has shaken down and a team of dedicated local activists and organisers has emerged.

Alba have also shaken off the one-man band epithet. At Westminster, the two-man band of veteran Kenny MacAskill and crusty Neale Hanvey has been at least as vocal and effective at holding the Tories to account as the massed ranks of SNP MPs.

That’s not a gratuitous criticism of my erstwhile SNP colleagues. Stephen Flynn has done a good job at PMQs putting the boringly managerial Rishi Sunak in his place. But the SNP Westminster group is obviously badly split. Some have gone native, and others are so alienated that they have all but disappeared off the political radar. Many are quietly looking for new career opportunities given the likely prospect of electoral defeat at the General Election.

MacAskill and Hanvey, on the other hand, seem to have discovered the elixir of political life. MacAskill was looking forward to writing more books – excellent ones on Scotland’s left-wing history – when he found himself unexpectedly at Westminster in 2019, then as a front man for Alba in 2021.

At once, Scotland had a standard bearer for its economy in the face of Treasury indifference and austerity, not to mention a rather lacklustre economic leadership from the Scottish Government itself.

The National: INEOS Grangemouth refinery next to an oilseed rape field in Spring sunshine in Grangemouth..

Kenny’s championing of the workers at the threatened Grangemouth oil refinery has been both inspiring and exemplary. Alba has found its political niche in economic policy which might explain John Swinney saying he will re-prioritise the economy and tackling the cost of living crisis as First Minister.

At Holyrood, Ash Regan’s move to Alba in October 2023 gave the party its first MSP. This is clearly a lonely perch even if some SNP critics saw her shift as opportunist in the wake of coming third in the SNP leadership contest. Regan has proven quite resilient since joining Alba and she has certainly re-animated the independence strategy debate with her Referendum Bill.

This would extend Holyrood’s powers to legislate and negotiate independence. Yes, it could easily be vetoed by Westminster but since when were we supposed to sit back and do as we are told by London? It’s Alba’s role to stir things.

All this is of limited value unless Alba starts to win seats. Some commentators have poured scorn on Alba ever winning popular support. The inimitable Professor Gerry Hassan of Glasgow Caledonian University has dubbed Alba a “vendetta” party and suggested it “represents no-one and has no popular mandate. He also calls it “male, masculinist, even misogynist”.

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I respect Gerry as an academic – I’ve contributed chapters to several of his political anthologies. But in this instance, he has let his personal dislike of Salmond get in the way of professional objectivity. I doubt whether Alba stalwarts such as former MPs Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and Corri Wilson, or Ash Regan, think they are members of a “male, masculinist, even misogynist” operation.

But Gerry is correct to say that the test of Alba is winning votes. A poll conducted in April – pre the dust-up between the SNP and Greens – found that 15.4% of Scots would vote for Alex Salmond for FM compared to 17.1% for Anas Sarwar and 25.8% for Humza Yousaf. The same poll (by Find Out Now) showed Salmond was the favoured choice in the north-east as best first minister. I’d call that competitive, Gerry.

Alba are clearly looking to 2026 and the next Holyrood election to make a breakthrough on the regional lists. In 1999, Tommy Sheridan (now an Alba member) and the Greens’s Robin Harper were elected for the Glasgow and Lothian regions respectively on less than 5% of the vote. That showing could put Salmond and a bunch of Alba MSPs into Holyrood.

The latest (Renfield & Wilton) poll conducted in the first week of May had the SNP on 27% for the regional vote, Labour on 33%, the Tories on 14%, and the Lib Dems and Greens both on 9%. While Alba is on 3% but some earlier polls already have the party at 5%.

From this perspective, it is instructive to look at the outcome of the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, when Labour clocked 34% on the regional list, the SNP 24% and the Tories 17%. That’s roughly where we are now, give or take a few points.

The outcome in seat terms in 2003 was Labour 50, SNP 27, Conservatives 18 and LibDems 17. But a plethora of smaller parties won significant gains, famously making it a “rainbow” parliament. Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialists won six seats, the Greens seven and various independents another four. We might be on the verge of seeing a similar rainbow effect in 2026.

We are still two long years from the next Scottish Parliament election. They will most probably take place under an unpopular Starmer regime at Westminster.

Result: Scottish Labour cannot assume it will overtake the SNP even if the Unionist parties might cobble together enough seats to grab temporary power. It will be the hour of maximum danger (and opportunity) for Scotland.

There is a lesson here to be drawn from Catalonia, where there have always been numerous pro-independence parties representing different points on the political spectrum. To date, Scotland has always been unusual in having one hegemonic independence party. But for good or ill, those days are past. Alba are here to stay. If the indy parties don’t find a way of working together, only the nation will suffer.