WHAT will be the political impact of the emergence of the Alba Party, which I predicted in these pages last October? For obvious reasons, early reaction to Alba has been couched in terms of personality. But what are the political repercussions of having a second, serious independence party competing with the traditional SNP?

Let’s start by asking if the AP has any different ideological stance from the SNP? If not, then the party’s long-term impact is likely to be minimal, given the fact that the SNP are well dug in at Holyrood, Westminster and in the local authorities. The SNP’s proven voter appeal, military-style apparatus and obvious career advantages mean the infant Salmond group will need to sink deeper roots if it is to survive.

However, I suspect Alba will soon solidify as a genuine social democratic party somewhat to the left of the SNP, and with an experienced membership capable of sustaining itself and mass campaigning.

The Alba Party apparatus was created in secret – a hard task in itself – by Laurie Flynn, a heroic figure in investigative journalism in the UK over the past half century and a leftist of the old school. Early supporters – former justice minister Kenny MacAskill, Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny and MP Neale Hanvey – were on the SNP’s left wing. MacAskill has churned out a succession of popular books on Scottish radical working-class history.

It is no surprise then that the Alba Party’s statement of aims explicitly describes the organisation as “social democratic” in contrast to the neoliberal economics of the SNP’s Growth Commission report written by corporate lobbyist Andrew Wilson. The early rush of folk joining the Alba Party (now some thousands) appears to be heavily tilted to those who opposed the Growth Report and its conservative advocacy of keeping the UK pound.

That said, the differences in political and economic ideology between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond are slight. Salmond himself was an early adopter of the Irish globalist, free trade, limited regulation model for Scotland. This model went belly up with the bank crash of 2008. However, the Alba Party do not have to be miles to the left of the SNP to become a challenge. They merely have to sit on the SNP’s left flank and denounce the Sturgeon Government’s undoubted drift rightwards.

READ MORE: Alba Party candidates: Who will be next to join Alex Salmond's party?

It is also the case, I suspect, that the Alba Party membership will be much further to the left than Salmond himself or the young social liberals who form the base of Nicola Sturgeon’s support in the SNP. Early adherents to Alba are of the Salmond generation and more likely to be traditional social democrats influenced by economic issues.

The problem for the SNP Government is that it has used social reforms to avoid genuine economic reforms – because the latter means confronting the bastions of private property. Expect an early challenge to the Sturgeon SNP from Alba on the economic front.

Salmond and his old comrade-in-arms Alex Neil have already published a position paper calling for a massive, state-sponsored house-building programme as a way of rebooting the Scottish economy after the pandemic. The SNP’s flagship policy for the Holyrood election is a plan to build 100,000 houses by 2030. But 2030 is a long way away and (actually) that 100,000 target is hardly radical except in comparison to the notoriously incompetent delivery of the last Labour administration at Holyrood. Expect housing to become a theme of the SNP-Alba duel. Which raises the next obvious question: will the rise of Alba change the dynamic of the Holyrood election? Salmond has premised his reason for creating the Alba Party on winning a “supermajority” in May.

Is he being disingenuous? It is reasonable to ask if Salmond would have created Alba had it not been for his break with Sturgeon.

Yet there were deep internal pressures forcing a split in the SNP quite separate from the misconduct allegations against Salmond or the way they were handled by the Sturgeon administration.

Large numbers of SNP members have been resigning or dropping out of party activity since 2017, angered by the lack of internal democracy, a perceived failure to campaign actively for independence, and the virtual ban on discussing any alternative to waiting on Boris Johnson to grant a Section 30 order for another independence referendum.

Already these internal disputes had led to the creation of two new pro-indy parties – the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) and Action for Independence (AFI). These were preparing to challenge the SNP on the regional lists. The advent of the Alba Party merely simplifies what was already taking place. The AFI have already agreed to stand down in favour of Alba. The ISP will be swept to ignominious oblivion by Salmond’s Alba if it does not follow suit. Salmond’s volcanic presence will ensure Alba get the oxygen of publicity the ISP and AFI lacked. From that point of view, Alba certainly changes the nature of the election.

​READ MORE: The SNP's women's convener becomes latest politician to defect to the Alba Party

But can Alba secure a supermajority and will Boris care? The mysteries of the D’Hondt voting system elude even its most ardent advocates. To simplify, parties getting less than circa 7% of the list vote are unlikely to win seats. Which is why the ISP and AFI were doomed to failure. The Salmond factor probably ensures Alba will clear the 7% barrier. But Alba will need to get beyond 10-12% in every region to get into supermajority territory. If it falls into the 7-10% band, the outcome is more likely that Alba will divert seats from the SNP.

Talking to Alba members, I sense they exaggerate their likely vote. But that does not matter. If Alba can secure a bridgehead in the coming Holyrood Parliament – meaning a few more than just Mr Salmond – then it will be in a position to mount continuous pressure on Sturgeon.

Indeed, if an SNP-Green coalition administration emerges Salmond and Alba could be the de facto opposition, amid the political wreckage of the Unionist parties. That will make it less easy for Sturgeon to prevaricate on confronting the Tory Government in London over a second referendum. Expect Salmond the great populist to take to the streets if she does. This scenario – rather than a phantom super majority – is what really counts.

Above all, the advent of an Alba contingent at Holyrood led by Alex Salmond would rob Nicol Sturgeon of the sole power of initiative.

As I asked in these pages last October: “Imagine if Salmond tabled a motion setting a date for a second referendum, whether or not Boris agreed. Would neophyte SNP MSPs dare vote down such a proposition?”

My guess is that Boris will reject a second referendum unless his feet are put to the fire by mass resistance. That will leave the constitutional conservatism of the SNP leadership up the proverbial creek. Also, I suspect Nicola Sturgeon will only front the SNP till the end of the pandemic then hand over to a younger leader, in an attempt to define Salmond and Alba as yesterday’s politics.

But as Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond has just proved, he has a flare for changing the rules of the game.