How fossil fuels have saved the ‘oddballs’ of the independence cause from extinction

ALEX Salmond’s Alba party had the worst possible launch.

The former first minister had just failed to topple Nicola Sturgeon via the Holyrood inquiry into how the Scottish Government had bungled its sexual misconduct probe against him.

He may have hoped, when the new party was quietly registered by friends in early February, that the inquiry would vindicate his breathless claims of conspiracy and decay at the top of the SNP, and that he would emerge magnanimously from the wreckage to lead the Yes movement to glory.

However, Ms Sturgeon, despite most MSPs on the inquiry believing she misled parliament, came out of the episode stronger than before, a battle-hardened, iron-clad survivor.

She had also reminded the voting public of Mr Salmond’s slimy side, and his refusal to apologise. By late March, Ms Sturgeon was hitting her stride again, and Mr Salmond had lost his.

Alba’s online launch on March 26 was genuinely startling in one sense.

Here was the ex-leader of the SNP setting up a rival to his old party, with toxic implications for independence.

The fight for freedom now involved a parallel fight among factions about who was Indy-er than thou.

The launch itself was a low-lit shambles, technically inept, with contributions from weird and sycophantic allies, including bloggers who wanted to censor the mainstream media by ruling questions out of order.

It immediately established Alba as the oddball wing of the cause.

Convicted perjurer Tommy Sheridan polished that image by joining two days later. He has since wound up his 15-year-old Solidarity party and thrown in his lot with Alba.

Mr Salmond’s pitch to voters also turned out to be a dud.

Alba could help deliver an independence “supermajority” at Holyrood, he claimed.

Its list MSPs could join forces with SNP MSPs who won seats, the better to extract a referendum from Boris Johnson. Now, if the SNP would just move aside to help Alba prosper …

But, of course, the SNP (and Scottish Greens) wouldn’t budge, leaving Alba scrabbling at the margins for votes.

Mr Salmond also failed to define supermajority – it was always just an empty showman’s catchphrase – and Ms Sturgeon rubbished the idea and ruled out working with her old boss again. Six weeks after Mr Salmond launched Alba by saying he was planting a saltire on a hill to “see how many will rally to our standard”, he got his answer.

Just under 1.7 per cent of the list vote nationwide was a humiliating flop.

Alba still had two MPs – the SNP defectors Neale Hanvey and Kenny MacAskill, plus a smattering of councillors – but it had failed to elect anyone under its own banner.

The election had come too soon for it, Mr Salmond conceded.

He kept chortling on with weekly video messages to the faithful and, to be fair, was spot on in identifying many of the holes in the SNP’s dusty arguments for independence.

But the party struggled to get traction or credibility. It needed a break. Then, last month, Ms Sturgeon gave it one.

The First Minister’s climate-based opposition to Cambo and other new Scottish oilfields, after choosing to govern with the Scottish Greens, finally gave Alba a unique selling point.

An oil economist before he entered politics, Mr Salmond immediately seized on the historic shift in the SNP’s position and turned it into an opportunity for Alba, issuing a scathing warning that Ms Sturgeon could be as bad for the oil industry as Margaret Thatcher was for coal.

If you live in the north east and support independence, Mr Salmond’s is now the only party which both supports leaving the UK and is demanding a long life for the oil and gas sector.

The Greens never offered both, and now the SNP don’t either. Alba have become the Jurassic Nats, the unabashed petrochemical wing of the independence movement, picking up the pro-North Sea position so lightly discarded by Ms Sturgeon.

Next May’s local elections had been looking unforgivingly grim for Alba just a few weeks ago.

Holyrood’s proportional system was always the party’s best shot at a breakthrough – it needed just 6% of the vote to get a list MSP elected, compared to at least 20% to win a council seat.

If Alba doesn’t get any councillors returned in the spring, it faces a long, and possibly terminal wait to the 2026 Scottish Parliament election to have another crack at elected office.

But the oil issue has opened up a lifeline gap in the market.

Winning council seats in May remains a long shot, but converting SNP councillors to Alba’s standard is now a healthier possibility. They may be fossil-fuelled, but Alba aren’t extinct yet.

READ MORE: Sturgeon v Salmond: High drama that gripped a nation

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