FOR those former Labour voters who migrated to the SNP, the decision was not taken lightly. It’s worth recalling what made them do so as we approach tomorrow’s Scottish election. Though they may not yet feel inclined to vote for Alba, many will feel that the new pro-independence party represents their aspirations and values more than any party led by Nicola Sturgeon.

Such were the numbers of Labour voters moving to the SNP following the 2014 referendum that party managers began adopt an attitude of complacent entitlement towards them. Filled with the evangelical fervour of new converts who’d seen the light and accepted Alex and Nicola as their saviours, the new members’ rhapsodic enthusiasm made the SNP’s big-ticket gatherings assume the atmosphere of rock concerts. The tally of fresh recruits began to take on a mesmeric and metronomic quality: 80,000, 100,000 (gasp), 120,000. On and on the numbers climbed until it became clear we were witnessing a political phenomenon.

The Labour Party in Scotland adopted a position of denial. This party which once represented Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities, is now competing with the Tories again in the battle to avoid dropping into the political void. They have rendered themselves obsolete and in doing so have betrayed their people … my people.

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Their former members, sickened by the party’s inability to challenge the writ of an egregiously right-wing Tory administration drunk on bandit capitalism, simply felt that an independent Scotland offered the chance to ensure old Labour values might prevail in one corner of the British Isles. Few were under any illusions that the SNP were a party that embraced socialism. That much had become clear when it dropped its historic opposition to Nato. The SNP, though, would suffice for now as a party of convenience; a sort of political ESCRO, until a state of red independence could be gained.

What they couldn’t have foreseen was how quickly the initial warmth of their welcome would evaporate and turn to chilly disdain. Nor could they have predicted how reluctant the party leadership was to actually press home its advantage and explore all possible avenues towards a second referendum, so comfortable had it become in the virtual guarantee of unchallenged power

As many of the new supporters began to agitate within the movement for more urgency and a more radical approach to addressing Scotland’s historic inequality the chilly disdain turned to outright hostility. Several Westminster scufflers, whose elevation owed much to the new influx of former Labour voters, were now instructed to mock them as those “Common Weal types”.

Worse, the party leadership which had never shown any enthusiasm for dealing with racism directed at Scotland’s largest ethnic grouping – Irish Catholics – began to weaponise an entirely bogus concern about transphobia. This was used to isolate and marginalise those among its members who believe in the biological truth that sex is binary. When it also became clear that the hate crime legislation was nothing more than an artifice to label ordinary Scots as transphobes, many began realising that they and their aspirations for improving working-class communities were now considered surplus to requirements.

Sturgeon and her acolytes had contrived the gender smokescreen to avert attention from glacial progress on a referendum and the missing £600k which had been donated for that purpose. If Alba hadn’t come along to provide a more viable alternative to the increasingly authoritarian SNP then another party would have done. And don’t let’s kid ourselves here: the same level of invective and outright hatred that has followed all those joining Alba would also have been manifest if it had been any other party not led by Alex Salmond. Witness the vicious attacks on Rise in 2016.

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IN normal circumstances, the defection of so many high-ranking SNP politicians and officers to the new party would have been regarded as a crisis. That so many women have joined Alba tells another big story: that they don’t feel safe in a party whose leader has shown favour to a group whose tactics have included targeting them with threats of sexual violence.

You might take a reasonable decision not to back Alba because of Alex Salmond’s admitted conduct as First Minister. Such a position, though, would be a lot more legitimate if you weren’t turning a blind eye to the abuse and intimidation of women in your own party and whose complaints go unaddressed by head office.

However, after 14 years of unchallenged power you get to make many friends in Scotland’s journalistic establishment and so a faithful retinue of retrievers has been assembled in Scotland’s media community to ensure that the defaming of all those who have joined Alba is currently in overdrive. As jobs in the print and broadcast media have disappeared the opportunities to secure fat salaries and pensions in the Scottish Government’s bloated advisory sector have never seemed so appealing.

Even so, the decision by the main broadcasting outlets to no-platform Alba in the televised leadership debates speaks of something sinister at work in civic Scotland. What we are seeing here is a tiny cabal, gathered under the absolute patronage of a semi-elected husband-and-wife leadership team, building an empire within the wider Yes movement. The irony is that they are targeting those who thought they were leaving an empire to build a mere country.

In a nation which parades its inclusivity and its absolute devotion to the democratic ideal it’s frankly astonishing how it’s now home to an entitled, reactionary elite become so dizzy on power they’ve convinced themselves this is reasonable and rational behaviour.

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They seek to justify it by saying “ah but it’s because of Salmond”. This is an insult to all those who have joined Alba and who have never been asked why they left the SNP. They were never asked because Scotland’s new officer class won’t like the answer.

As a journalist, I simply can’t endorse any political party at election time. And neither the SNP nor Alba come anywhere close to what I want to see emerge in a new Scotland: a radical and independent Socialist republic. But it’s chilling to see a party which purports to embrace democracy and inclusiveness now become desperate to cancel another which proposes a different vision of independence.

Whatever happens tomorrow I sense Alba are here to stay, with or without Alex Salmond. The political spongers who have lived off Nicola Sturgeon’s vague promise of independence have to be held accountable. The 2021 election might have come too soon for Alba and the other non-SNP Yes parties, but you sense that a more authentic movement is steadily building momentum.