WHAT next for the Alba Party following its wipe-out in the local elections? True, Alba members worked miracles of organisation to field more than 100 candidates. And arguably the Alba campaign was the only one to put independence to the forefront.

The SNP’s eve of poll election broadcast – witty, I will admit – even managed to avoid mentioning that the election was about choosing local councils, never mind actually uttering the sensitive indy word. And yet Alba were humiliated.

Why did they fail at the ballot box? The party was founded early last year in the wake of Alex Salmond’s acquittal on various charges of sexually assaulting women. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the verdict, and whatever one’s stance on Alba’s policies, the inescapable truth is that the party is associated in the public mind primarily with Salmond and with Salmond alone.

But the younger generation of indy voters has no memory of Salmond’s salad days as the standard bearer of the independence cause. He is seen as yesterday’s politician, even by many who feel he has been tragically wronged. And that showed on the doorstep and at the ballot box, like it or lump it.

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It pains me to say this as I appreciate Salmond’s qualities as a campaigner. He is also one of the few politicians able to match a genuine interest in policy with concrete plans for government. The Alba plan for tackling poverty and the emerging crisis in living standards was well-thought-out and deliverable. Yet the voters could not see beyond Alex himself. Unfair? Yes of course. But a palpable truth, nevertheless.

Many of Alba’s 6000 or so members will probably disagree with me. They come mostly from the pre-referendum SNP camp which still refers to Salmond affectionately as “the Boss”. Whole swaths of the SNP’s old activist base quit the party to join Alba in 2021, in opposition to what they perceived as Nicola Sturgeon’s downgrading of the urgency for holding a second referendum.

Many (such as I) also deplored the increasing lack of internal democracy inside the SNP under Sturgeon and Murrell, plus the party’s embracing of pro-market policies in the 2018 Growth Report. The resistance of the FM to supporting a separate Scottish currency after independence also played a part in Alba’s formation.

Alba members saw the new party as the old Salmonite SNP reborn: a genuinely social democratic movement committed first and foremost to winning independence – not a managerial, New Labour Mark II talking the indy talk but settling for the devolution status quo. Alas, last Thursday, reality bit back as the electorate voted to increase the SNP’s vote share and give Nicola Sturgeon yet more local councillors. Alba, on the other hand, saw its sitting councillors dumped and every one of its candidates rejected.

What did Alba get wrong ideologically? The obvious answer will be unpalatable to many in the national movement, including those independents outside of Alba itself. Alba presented itself as the party that put independence first. It fought on that issue and lost comprehensively. Instead, middle-class voters preferred the softly-softly platitudes of the SNP leadership. And working-class voters – think Dundee, where the SNP won outright control of the council – voted pragmatically not for an instant referendum but for the party best able to protect them from the Tory assault on their living standards. Alba, alas, was not seen in that category.

That is not to suggest independence is off the agenda. Rather, the constitutional question is now increasingly bound up with economic struggles. The Bank of England, which a few months ago was telling us that inflation was temporary, is now predicting annual price rises of 10%. A couple of years of that will beggar much of the country, especially anyone living off a pension or state income.

Labour will say – predictably – that the constitutional question should be shelved in favour of electing Keir Starmer to Number 10. As if Starmer’s crew will solve anything, whereas independence would give the Scottish people direct control over their own energy resources at prices ordinary folk can afford.

But wait a minute? The SNP membership voted for a publicly owned energy corporation. The FM duly binned that idea and took it out of last year’s Holyrood election manifesto. Response from the SNP membership?: Zero. Clearly if the SNP won’t fight to own our national resources today, can we really believe they will after indy? Which suggests we need to create as broad a coalition as possible right now to demand the SNP government takes action to protect the living standards of ordinary Scots.

Can Alba play a role in such a campaign? Alas I fear that Alba’s future is deeply uncertain. Salmond greeted Thursday’s defeat with a call to double down and prepare for the next electoral contest – a UK General Election in 2024.

But there is little to suggest the party will fare any better then. More likely, it will lose its two existing Westminster seats. In the meantime, Alba’s membership will become demoralised. As it is, many party activists had exaggerated expectations of winning council seats last week when it was all too obvious the reverse was on the cards.

Of course, a deliberate lack of media attention will be blamed for Alba’s woes. But the truth lies here on political earth, not in the media heavens.

I still think there is a political space to the left of an increasingly liberal centrist SNP – especially given the economic crisis. But this space can only be filled by a party willing to lead campaigns on the ground, not just confine itself to electoral politics.

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Salmond is betting the SNP leadership will fail to deliver its promised second referendum next year and thus deliver the indy movement into Alba’s waiting hands. After Thursday’s result, that scenario seems unlikely. First because the FM’s ability to wriggle on the constitutional question is unrivalled. Second because she has enough levers of power at her disposal to offer at least token resistance to Boris – unless the notoriously factious Scottish left can provide a more comprehensive alternative.

Of course, Alex could retire and open the space for a new Alba leader, thus reviving the party’s appeal.

But who? Internally, members talk about Joanna Cherry. She has the charisma and the national profile but shows no sign of wanting to leave the SNP despite being sidelined by her Westminster colleagues.

Inside Alba, East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill would probably replace Salmond or perhaps Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. But neither has the public presence or youth appeal to stir a new generation of activists and voters. For if Alba is to survive, far less win seats, it has to attract fresh support.

Politics is a cruel game. There simply isn’t the time for Alba to build up an electoral base slowly over many years and many elections. Having failed to break through quickly, Alba urgently needs to reassess its political model and its present leadership. The alternative – a lingering death – will only add to the demoralisation of the nationalist left. Alba is owned by its membership. They now need to take tough decisions, not hide their heads in the sand.