ALEX Salmond has declared his “unfinished business” is to see the nation become independent as he ruled out a return to power either as First Minister at some future point or as head of an independent government of Scotland.

In an exclusive two-part interview with The National, published today and tomorrow, the former SNP leader and First Minister raised concerns over the SNP’s condition that a second referendum should only be held once the pandemic is over.

“The phrase ‘when the pandemic is over’ is what I take issue with,” he said about his former party’s intention to hold a new vote by the end of 2023.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon hits back at Alex Salmond claim she’s been slow on independence

"Yes because of vaccination, the infection rates are running at a low level at present, but there is no guarantee that is going to continue. There's no guarantee there's not going to be a variant which gets around the vaccine and we have to have another vaccination programme.

"It's a long haul a world pandemic, so if you include the condition when the pandemic is over and then you include the economy repercussions...the tsunami which is heading our way, that could mean many years.

"My view is that independence for Scotland is a really important thing, a crucial thing. It's crucial enough to be part of the recovery from the pandemic.

"I don't want to leave recovery in the hands of Boris Johnson no more than I would have left control of the pandemic in Boris Johnson's hands. And this idea, somehow, that independence can be shunted away because something really really important is happening, is in my view entirely wrong.

"I think independence is so important it needs to be an integral part of Scotland's recovery from the pandemic.. and [it] exemplifies the powers that Scotland must have if we are going to implement that recovery positively."

The National:

Alex Salmond being interviewed by The National's chief political reporter Kathleen Nutt outside the People's Palace on Monday.    Photo Gordon Terris.

He added: “We have all lived through the most enormous tragedy of epoch-making proportions but ... however difficult the challenges are comes opportunity. There is an opportunity to make a fundamental shift in the nature of the Scottish economy towards a resource-based economy.

“But I haven’t seen anything in terms of a recovery plan thus far from either Westminster or Edinburgh which would give me the confidence that the scale of this issue is being fully appreciated.”

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Some commentators have speculated Salmond, who was First Minister from 2007 to 2014, still harbours ambitions to return to the role, possibly to seek revenge on his one-time ally and successor as SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The two have not spoken since he successfully took her government to court more than two years ago.

Asked if he wished at some point to be First Minister again, Salmond said: “No I don’t even wish to be in government again.

“I spent 40 years of my life articulating and building the case for independence, building the case for the SNP, turning the SNP from an outfit of five MPs ... and when I left the leadership the SNP were a parliamentary army and the dominant force in Scottish politics. That took a long time. I didn’t anticipate the length of time from getting to there and to getting to independence would be the major gap.”

He said his unfinished business was independence, telling The National: “The sum of my ambitions is to see Scotland independent, that is what I’ve strived for all my political life. I’ve held office. I don’t need to hold office again.

“What I am interested in is seeing the nation independent. My unfinished business is independence. Nothing more, or nothing less.”

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Salmond now leads the new pro-independence Alba Party which is standing candidates in all eight regions of Scotland in a bid to achieve a Yes “supermajority” in Holyrood.

The SNP are on course to win the election with some polls suggesting they may achieve an outright majority of MSPs with most being elected from the country's 73 constituencies.

Salmond says voting for the SNP on the regional list is the “ultimate wasted vote” because of the Holyrood electoral system.

The proportional representation system sees MSPs elected from constituencies, with additional members elected from eight regional lists in a bid to ensure each party’s total number of MSPs is in proportion to the percentage of votes it receives.

While the SNP is successful in winning constituency seats, Salmond's view is that his former party could end up with no MSPs at all from the regional section of the ballot.

The latest opinion polls suggest the SNP on the lists “would win no seats whatsoever, despite having the best part of a million votes”, he said at Alba's launch last month. This would mean these votes are “totally wasted”, he said.

Alba are not standing candidates in the constituency seats and have called for supporters to back the SNP in this section of the ballot on May 6 while voting for Alba on the list.

Speaking to The National at an election campaign event in Glasgow on Monday, he said the main purpose of the SNP should be about realising the goal of independence and not about forming government in a devolved nation.

“The SNP is not and has never been a political party with the fundamental aim to be in government, the SNP is meant to be the force which enables Scotland to be an independent nation, it’s there to break the grip of the British state over Scotland, that is the aim of the SNP,” said Salmond, who heads Alba’s north east list of candidates.

“Now, it would be unfortunate if the people who are meant to be pushing forward with the agenda on independence had become too comfortable with reigning supreme in a devolved parliament.

“Not because they can’t do good things, not because it’s something they shouldn’t do, but it should be no substitute for pushing forward with independence.”

​READ MORE: Alba to host second policy conference ahead of manifesto launch

He said he believes if Alba win seats in Holyrood next month, the SNP would make faster progress on independence.

“Alba will be the grit in the independence oyster. If I and many other people are right in detecting a lack of urgency in the SNP to move to independence, if Alba is in that Parliament the SNP will get very urgent, very quickly,” he said.

And he revealed if Alba candidates are elected, the party will put down a motion immediately instructing the government to begin independence negotiations with Westminster.

He said: “Our policy is in three weeks’ time we will be laying a motion before the Parliament instructing the Government to initiate independence negotiations with Westminster.

"That is the level of urgency to see independence and I think there is a substantial constituency for that in Scotland. People are realistic, they know things don’t happen overnight, but they know unless you make a start you never finish. And right now, there is substantial doubt about when that start is going to be as far as the SNP is concerned and with the Green party, well ... I’m not sure they are starting at all.”

Alba launch their manifesto tomorrow.