The Scottish Mail on Sunday
As ragtag band of outsiders and misfits jump aboard Alex’s Alba bandwagon, who’s next to defect?
HE boasted that his candidates would ‘come from a range of experience’. But so far Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party is home to a growing number of political outcasts and misfits disgruntled with the current SNP leadership.
Yesterday, its two latest defections from the Nationalists, Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Secretary and now MP for East Lothian, and Corri Wilson, former Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP, both pledged themselves to the cause of helping to achieve a ‘super-majority’ for independence at Holyrood.
Describing Alba as ‘hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill’, Mr Salmond, who resigned his SNP membership in August 2018 while allegations about his conduct were investigated, now wants to see his party field at least four candidates in each of the eight electoral regions, with himself the lead candidate in the North-East.
More candidates will be unveiled in the coming days, with speculation rife over whether any more MPs or MSPs may move to Mr Salmond’s party as the rift in the SNP deepens.
Yesterday, it came as little surprise to many that among the first to join him was his long-time close ally Mr MacAskill, 62, who has been an outspoken critic of the party’s direction under Nicola Sturgeon since he stood down as an MSP in 2016.
As Justice Secretary for seven years, however, he will forever be known as the man who decided to let the Lockerbie bomber go free.
Announcing the move in August 2009, in a widely ridiculed televised statement likened by one critic to a second-rate sermon, he said cancerstricken Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi – the only man ever convicted over the atrocity – was now facing a sentence ‘imposed by a higher power’.
Relatives of the victims of the 1988 disaster were appalled – particularly as the Libyan was released on compassionate grounds and given three months to live, but survived until May 2012 after being allowed to return home.
Mr MacAskill’s decision to free Megrahi was far from his only quesadmitted
tionable move during his tenure in charge of justice, which saw him accused of putting the needs of criminals above those of victims.
Just one year into his ministerial job, in 2008, he shocked the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, by declaring the days of police existing solely to protect the public from criminals were over.
Given his own track record with police – he was once arrested and kept in a cell to sober up on the night of an England v Scotland football match at Wembley – many might have assumed a more empathetic approach.
But Mr MacAskill, a criminal lawyer by profession, suggested it was wrong for people to believe police officers’ only function was as a ‘thin blue line’ guarding them from law-breakers, dismissing the traditional view of policing as ‘an anachronism in this day and age’.
Meanwhile, the public were forced to endure wild, unsubstantiated claims – which included the astonishing theory, in 2011, that people’s fear of crime is largely linked to the weather.
One of the old guard from the fundamentalist wing of the SNP, he quit the post in 2014 after Ms Sturgeon replaced Mr Salmond as First Minister, following the failure of the 2014 independence campaign.
Many thought he had been consigned to the wilderness, but he confounded critics three years later by making an electoral comeback as the SNP member for East Lothian at Westminster.
He has sided with Mr Salmond throughout his successful civil action against the Scottish Government over its botched probe into harassment claims, as well as a subsequent High Court trial, which saw the veteran politician cleared of 13 sexual assault charges.
Fellow defector Ms Wilson, 55, represented the SNP at Westminster from 2015 until losing her seat in the 2017 general election.
In 2016, it was revealed she allowed her staff to spend almost £19,000 on business-class flights and luxury London hotels. Ms Wilson’s staff expenses bill was £18,645 – at the time, more than six times higher than the average MP’s bill.
Details of her lavish spending emerged shortly after she was slammed for employing her own son, Kieran Donoghue, as a personal assistant.
It emerged she had paid him for 118 hours of overtime in a year.
After losing her seat, she set herself up as a life coach and civil celebrant, but continued to promote the cause of independence.
Earlier this month, she expressed her dismay at the current state of the SNP on social media.
In a since-deleted tweet, Ms Wilson, who will stand on the South of Scotland list, wrote: ‘If you are a member of a party where you cannot exercise your democratic right to ask questions... you cannot voice your options (for fear of backlash or being ‘‘reported’’), you base your morals and what is acceptable on others behaving worse, then there is something VERY wrong.
‘Open your eyes sheeple. If nothing else history has taught us blind faith doesn’t end well.’
The pair now join three other candidates unveiled on Friday, including Chris McEleny, a former leader of the SNP group in Inverclyde, who had already been selected as an SNP candidate on the regional list for West Scotland. Like Mr
MacAskill, he has publicly challenged the SNP leadership’s position on a second referendum, taking his campaign for the party to consider a ‘plan B’ route to a conference debate.
Other candidates include those who have disagreed with Nicola Sturgeon’s gender reforms, as well as those unhappy about the perceived anti-business approach by the current Government.
They include Eva Comrie, a lawyer who had planned to run for the SNP but will stand for Alba in MidScotland and Fife.
Ms Comrie, an amputee, describes herself as a ‘bionic candidate’, saying NHS Scotland ‘saved my life and my mobility’.
Cynthia Guthrie, who has worked in finance, health, defence and the media, will stand in the South of Scotland. She had a senior HR roles at Ferranti Defence Systems.