TWO politicians walk into a bar in Rutherglen. This isn’t a set-up for a joke – though there’s plenty to laugh about in what follows.

The first, playing to the crowd, settles against the wooden bar and declares the reason for their arrival: “We’ve come today to settle which of the two of us will represent you at the upcoming by-election.

"It’s important, you understand, that there be just one candidate put forward to represent the independence movement, lest we split the vote at a crucial time.”

The crowd, composed of many veterans of the independence movement, sporting a collection of faded Yes badges that have seen too many marches and not enough progress, settles in for the debate.

The first candidate, having ordered a drink they believe will endear them to the common man, turns to face the room.

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“My party knows this ward well. We’ve won here twice before, each time by a significant margin.

"We remain the largest in the Scottish Parliament, and while we’ve taken some knocks of late, we are still on track to return the largest number of seats at the next Westminster and Holyrood elections – as we have done for over a decade.

“According to the latest polls, our party leader’s popularity is on the up too”, they say, grinning more smugly than they had probably intended. “And the size of our membership gives us access to resources that smaller parties could never match.

“Our roster of politicians are household names. Some liked. Some…not so much. But many are known by their achievements locally and nationally. If there is to be only one candidate for the independence movement at this election and all that follow, should it not be the candidate who can bring the largest number of people with them to the independence cause?”

The second candidate clears their throat and steps into the light.

“My party,” they begin, “has never won a single seat in the short time that we have existed. What representation in councils and parliaments we do have has come solely from defections – and when put back to the people, we have without fail lost whatever seats we had taken.

“All polling data points to a complete electoral defeat at the next election. When we stood for Holyrood, we took just 1.7% of votes across Scotland. When we stood in the local elections, that was reduced to just 0.7%.

"Our leader is less popular in Scotland than David Cameron, and in the short time that we have existed, we have been described as Trumpian, socially conservative and homophobic.

The National:

“Our loudest supporters”, they continue, “are infamous for their hostility toward the people we need to bring into the Yes movement, while our candidate roster consists exclusively of defectors, failures and opportunists with a history of flitting between political parties in the hope of being elected somewhere, anywhere, they could.

"We are a small party, with little name recognition outside of Scotland’s political bubble.

“The odds of my party winning this seat are less than zero. Nonetheless, we believe other pro-independence parties should move aside and let us, alone, stand as the only indy supporting candidate in the upcoming elections – not only here, but in many seats across Scotland.

"Our policies should not be a factor in this decision. Only then can we stop the Unionist parties from making gains,” they conclude.

See. I told you there would be plenty to laugh about in this story.

Alex Salmond’s continuing interventions to demand that the SNP functionally make way for the Alba Party are, by all objective measures, the fastest route to losing Holyrood’s pro-independence majority.

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Sure, I have my own beef with Salmond’s ego project but setting that aside it is still patently, obviously, unavoidably the case that any constituency or list seat vacated for the Alba Party is a seat that will be lost to pro-Union politicians.

Labour are on course to likely victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election and I fail to see how anyone could reasonably justify Alba displacing other indy candidates at such a crucial time.

Salmond’s comment that the SNP are in “danger of handing the seat to Labour on a platter” seems absolutely wild considering the alternative is a party that still seems unsure over how to pronounce its own name.

Doubly so when considering the SNP had never even held a seat there until after Salmond had resigned as leader of the party. Triply so when considering Salmond couldn’t even get himself re-elected.

But that isn’t really the purpose of Alba’s plan. Cynically, you could argue that Salmond views this as the only potential route to an Alba victory anywhere at all, with pro-indy folk having no choice but to vote for them.

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Yet I don’t really think that the Alba Party leadership believes they’d actually have a chance either.

Rather, I suspect this is purely a short-sighted political ploy for a party run on grievance politics. Now Salmond can claim the SNP, by dint of patching his toxic party, have no interest in independence, lest they would have ceded ground to Alba.

In truth, any space given would be filled by those opposed to the indy cause.

If Alex Salmond was truly worried about splitting the independence vote between too many Yes parties, he would be advocating that the weakest link be removed to maximise the votes of those with an actual chance of winning – and that would mean removing himself and his party from the running.

Something I’m not sure his ego would ever allow.