So I'm not in any way setting myself up as a spokesperson for the Alba Party, but as people have been firing questions at me (some genuine, some vexatious) all afternoon about my own tentative declaration of support, I can at least answer those.
Are you certain this party will do good to the pro-independence cause rather than harm?
No, I'm not 100% sure of that, it's a calculated risk - but it's not the first time in his career that Alex Salmond has taken one of those. For example, standing in a Liberal Democrat-held seat in 2007 was a gamble, and it paid off handsomely. Unlike previous proposed or actual list-only parties like RISE, AFI or ISP, the balance of probabilities is in favour of this one succeeding in winning seats, simply because of Mr Salmond's personal profile and following. However, very well-known and popular politicians have failed to make an impact with new parties before - two examples are Robert Kilroy-Silk and Tommy Sheridan. So there are no guarantees, and yes, it's possible I'll look back on this in a few weeks and say it was all a terrible mistake. However, in this life you sometimes have to jump one way or the other, and my considered judgement at present is that the Alba Party is more likely than not to at least win some seats, and that it would be a good thing for the independence movement if it did.
But don't Mr Salmond's personal poll ratings prove that the party is doomed?
No, that's a common misconception. In a proportional respresentation system, it doesn't particularly matter if the majority of people don't like you, as long as a big enough minority like you enough to come out and vote for you. Mr Salmond's ratings are sometimes compared with Boris Johnson's - well, do you think the Tories aren't going to win any seats in May? Of course they are. I suspect those numbers may recover somewhat as the campaign progresses in any case.
Aren't you contradicting your previous belief that you can't game the system?
No. The fundamental point I've always made about the Additional Member System is that the list vote is the more important vote, it's the banker vote, and you should vote for your first-choice party on it. That's exactly what I will be doing.
But even if you personally aren't trying to game the system, is it possible the Alba Party could succeed in doing that?
Maybe. And that doesn't actually contradict what I've said in the past, because I've gone out of my way on a number of occasions to say that Alex Salmond is the one and only person who might just about be able to pull it off. The reason is that he's so synonymous with the SNP brand - he'll be able to persuade significant numbers of people that voting SNP in the constituencies and Alba on the list is a natural extension of their normal party choice of the SNP.
Are there any potential downsides that could occur even if the Alba Party succeeds?
Yes, one theoretical possibility is that it could increase the overall number of pro-indy seats while denying the SNP a single-party majority. That does worry me, but sometimes it's not possible to get absolutely everything you want, and you have to decide what is most important. If I had total faith that the SNP would deliver an independence referendum over the next couple of years, the calculation might be different, but as things stand, if you forced me to choose between a) 65 SNP seats and no Alba seats, and b) 64 SNP seats and 5 Alba seats, I'd be inclined to say that b) would be a better outcome for independence.
What challenges will the Alba Party face?
Lack of airtime is probably the most significant. The broadcasters will use the lack of previously established support as an excuse to give the party far less coverage than the five major parties, and if it fails to win seats, we may look back on that as the reason why.
Should AFI and ISP stand aside in Alba's favour?
Yes. They'll actually harm their own stated objectives if they don't.
"But what about the company you'll be keeping, James? Sheesh!"
Actually only one person has said that and she's a troll. (She used almost identical language when I committed the unspeakable crime of - gasp - having Denise Findlay as a guest on the podcast!) But the bottom line is that any party worth its salt is a broad church. In supporting Alba on the list I'll be a co-belligerent of Stuart Campbell, in supporting the SNP on the constituency ballot I'll be a co-belligerent of Fiona Robertson. In both cases all I can say is "it's a funny old world".
Should all independence supporters vote SNP on the constituency ballot?
Yes, without exception or hesitation. If you don't, you're helping the unionists to win.
Who should I vote for tactically in Region X or Y?
I don't personally believe in tactical voting on the list. Alba may well make that case, but that's not the reason I'm supporting them. I think you should vote for your first-choice pro-indy party on the list, and the only thing that should give you any pause for thought about that is if you think the party in question is too small to win any seats in your region at all. Whether the SNP has "too many constituency seats" in a region is always a red herring, because you don't actually know how many constituency seats they'll win until after you cast your vote.
Are you SNP 1, Alba 2?
I beg people: please, please, please stop using that shorthand. AMS is not a preferential voting system, and if people write numbers (as they do with STV) they'll risk spoiling their ballot.
How should the SNP react to today's news, if they're sensible and if they care about independence?
Stop wasting time and energy trying to destroy Alex Salmond, and get on with making the positive case for an SNP vote.
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