Scotland’s independence movement was rife with factional infighting today after a defector to Alex Salmond’s new party was branded an ’embarrassment’ by the SNP.
Kenny MacAskill MP this afternoon announced he was deserting Nicola Sturgeon to stand for the newly-launched Alba party in May’s Holyrood elections.
Mr MacAskill, who has represented East Lothian in the Commons since 2019, insisted the switch would bolster, and not derail, the independence movement.
But rifts quickly opened up when the Nats Westminster leader Ian Blackford said his erstwhile colleague’s departure was ‘somewhat of a relief’ and demanded he resign his seat to trigger a by-election.
Mr MacAskill shot back at Mr Blackford’s ‘dispiriting’ attack – and accused him of damaging the independence cause.
The war of words came after Ms Sturgeon herself fired the opening broadside earlier today, calling Mr Salmond a ‘gambler’ who has ‘serious questions to answer’.
It marks the latest chapter in the long-standing feud between the former first minister and one-time deputy who he groomed to be his successor – but has since accused of orchestrating a plot to destroy him.
Kenny MacAskill MP this afternoon announced he was deserting Nicola Sturgeon to stand for the newly-launched Alba party in May’s Holyrood elections
Alex Salmond has bagged his first high-profile defection after Westminster MP Kenny MacAskill (pictured together previously) quit the SNP to stand for Alba in May’s Holyrood elections
Ex-SNP MP Corrie Wilson is also joining the former first minister, fuelling speculation more disillusioned nationalists could be primed to desert Nicola Sturgeon (pictured)
Alex Salmond yesterday announced that he is launching a political party after his civil war with Nicola Sturgeon
He is the first high profile SNP figure to jump ship after the former first minister launched his rival pro-independence party yesterday.
Announcing his move, he said: ‘I will be joining the newly formed Alba Party to deliver that supermajority for independence through the list vote which I believe is essential to achieving our national independence.’
Mr Blackford, played down the gravity of the defection and said he was glad the party was shot of Mr MacAskill.
In a bitter swipe, he said: ‘After yesterday’s events this is the second least surprising news in Scottish politics. He has been an increasing embarrassment to many in the SNP and his departure is somewhat of a relief.
‘That he is joining a party with serious questions to answer about his leader’s suitability for public office is no surprise.’
He further called on Mr MacAskill to resign his Commons seat to allow his constituents to elect someone who will ‘focus on their interests, rather than self-interest’.
Mr MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary under Mr Salmond, hit back live on Sky News: ‘I think that’s very dispiriting from Ian Blackford. The Yes movement encompasses not just the SNP, not just the Alba party, but people of no party. They support the cause of independence which transcends everything.
‘I think that’s what Ian Blackford should be fighting for, and not opposing those who are also fighting for that cause.’
He dismissed demands that he ought to resign from the Commons, saying he was seeking a dual mandate by standing in May’s Scottish elections.
Tempers flared ahead of crucial elections to the Scottish Parliament where the First Minister hopes to win a majority to ramp up demands for another referendum.
Mr MacAskill yesterday hinted at his defection with an article defending the new party.
In an article for The Scotsman, he wrote: ‘As a list party, Alba won’t be seeking to win converts from those who oppose independence. They’ll neither be pitching to them nor expecting backing from them.’
Ex-SNP MP Corrie Wilson is also joining the former first minister, fuelling speculation more disillusioned nationalists could be primed to leave Ms Sturgeon.
Scotland operates a version of proportional representation, and Alba is only fielding ‘list’ candidates rather than standing in the first-past-the-post constituency contests that could have inflicted more serious damage to the nationalists.
Pollsters say that means it is more likely to hurt opposition parties, who typically end up with most of the list seats.
Mr MacAskill, who was Scotland’s justice secretary in Mr Salmond’s government, yesterday hinted at his defection with an article defending the new party
Scotland operates a version of proportional representation, and Alba is only standing ‘list’ – or ‘additional’ MSP – candidates rather than running in the first-past-the-post constituency contests that could have inflicted more serious damage to the nationalists. Pollsters say that means it is more likely to hurt opposition parties, who typically end up with most of the list seats. The chart shows the result from the last Holyrood election in 2016
Mr Salmond used the statement to say he will stand as a candidate in the North East regional constituency and introduce three other hopefuls – including two who have also defected from the SNP.
They were Cllr Chris McEleny, laywer Eva Comrie, and businesswoman Cynthia Guthrie. The first two were expected to stand for Ms Sturgeon’s party.
It prompted fury from the SNP – which Mr Salmond used to lead but is now estranged – amid fears that Alba will drag the election battleground onto second referendum territory, which could distract from other issues.
Ms Sturgeon was cleared of such accusations by a parliamentary committee this week.
Yesterday Mr Salmond launched his rival political party which he said would deliver a ‘supermajority’ of pro-independence MSPs.
‘Today, Alba is hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill,’ Mr Salmond said. ‘In the next few weeks, we’ll see how many will rally to our standard.’