1) Commitment to independence. Of the three main pro-independence options at this election, there's not much doubt that Alba has the strongest commitment to the goal. Some of the party's critics say "if you want to vote for a pro-indy alternative to the SNP on the list, you should vote for the Greens, because they at least have a track record of winning seats", but the Greens are quite open about the fact that a substantial minority of their members are anti-independence. That means almost inevitably that some of their candidates in this election must be unionists - in fact I recall someone left a comment on this blog a few weeks ago expressing concern that one of the Green list candidates in the Lothian region was on the record as being a UK federalist. Independence is also not necessarily a particularly high priority for the Green candidates who nominally support it. As for the SNP, I don't take the cynical view that they've become a devolutionist party - I do think the vast majority of SNP parliamentarians believe in independence, at least in principle. However, it's now possible to identify a small number of SNP MPs at Westminster who appear to have a different agenda - they're not necessarily actively opposed to independence, but they're more than happy for it to remain on the backburner for twenty or thirty years while they get on with their exciting careers in London.
2) Urgency about independence. A few years ago, the Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter was asked what the Scottish Government would do if a Section 30 order was rejected, and she said "campaign some more for a Section 30 order". What if it's refused again? They would "campaign some more for a Section 30 order", apparently. At no point would anyone say "enough is enough" and try a different tack - they would just keep going pointlessly round in circles into infinity. Now, OK, Mike Russell's 11-point plan moved things forward a bit and raised the hope that the SNP might pursue a Plan B to at least a limited extent. And if the SNP were the only credible pro-independence option available, the logical thing to do might be to take a leap of faith and assume they're serious this time about the action they've proposed, even though in the past they've failed to follow through on a number of occasions. But now the voters have their own Plan B in the shape of Alba - an insurance policy just in case the real intention is for Ian Blackford to boom "Scotland will not stand for this!" at PMQs every week for the next five years, and then to ask for yet another mandate for a referendum in 2026, and then another in 2031.
3) Breaking the SNP leadership's monopoly on strategic thinking. Even if we get to a referendum, we need to win it, and there must at least be a question mark over whether that can happen on the safety-first, small 'c' conservative prospectus that the SNP currently seem to have up their sleeve. An Alba group in the Scottish Parliament will be a breath of fresh air, bringing alternative strategic ideas to the table that are currently going unheard.
4) Experienced, serious and moderate leadership. The reason why the increasingly desperate attempts to portray Alba as some kind of 'zoomer', 'extremist', or even 'far right' (!) group have failed to gain any traction whatsoever is that the party's leadership and candidates have a track record that cannot be matched by any of the other opposition parties. In Alex Salmond they have the longest-serving First Minister of Scotland, in Kenny MacAskill they have the former Justice Secretary of Scotland (and the man who bravely released Megrahi on health grounds in the face of huge pressure from the Americans), in Chris McEleny they have the former leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, in Jim Walker they have a world-renowned economist, in Caroline McAllister they have the former SNP women's convenor, and in Lynne Anderson they have the former SNP equalities convenor.
5) Better candidates. Due to the SNP's controversial 'reserved places' scheme, the top place on the SNP list in each region is held by a very mixed bag of individuals, and in some cases their Alba counterparts are obviously superior. The clearest example of all is in Lothian, where it's a no-brainer that Kenny MacAskill would be a better list MSP than Graham Campbell.
6) There is no 'tactical' bar on voting Alba. As long-term readers know, I'm not a fan of 'gaming the system' or of attempts to 'vote tactically on the list'. But the irony is that the SNP's attempts to suppress the Alba vote actually amount to a call to vote tactically on the list - they're effectively saying "look at the opinion polls, they show that Alba votes might be wasted, so vote tactically for the SNP to ensure that doesn't happen". The problem is, though, that even if there's a danger of your vote being wasted, it only makes sense to tactically vote against your first-choice party if the party you vote for instead can offer some kind of guarantee that your vote will not be wasted - and that plainly isn't the case with the SNP in most regions. Of course it's possible that the SNP might nick a list seat in Central or in Glasgow, but is it certain? Is it even likely? Nope. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other - if you vote Alba, your vote may or may not be wasted, if you vote SNP, your vote may or may not be wasted, and if you vote Green, your vote may or may not be wasted. That being the case, there's no particularly strong reason not to vote Alba if they're your first choice.
I know some will argue that the Greens in Lothian are an exception, and that they can offer a virtual guarantee of taking at least one list seat in that region. But that just takes us back to the earlier problem, because the Green MSP in Lothian between 1999 and 2011 was the party's former co-leader Robin Harper, and he was/is viscerally opposed to independence!
7) Pressurise the SNP. If you have reservations about a governing party's current direction (in this case excessive caution on pursuing independence and an obsession with identity politics), a respectable and time-honoured tactic is to pressurise them into changing course by voting for a smaller party. If they want your vote back in future elections, they'll have to at least reflect on what made you and others like you feel strongly enough to look elsewhere. I know the stock counter-argument to that is "you can't gamble with the pro-indy majority by casting a protest vote", but that doesn't really apply for the reason given above - in most cases, there's just as much risk that an SNP list vote will be wasted as an Alba list vote.
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I've had lots more constituency profiles in The National over the last few days - Moray, Banffshire and Buchan Coast, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Strathkelvin and Bearsden, Clydebank and Milngavie, Galloway and West Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Glasgow (regional list), West Scotland (regional list), Glasgow Cathcart and Glasgow Kelvin.
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