Alex Salmond’s reemergence on the Scottish political scene as leader of the Alba party had a pantomimic quality – some cheers, some boos, and a lively mix of interest and anxiety about where the plot would now go with the principal boy back centre stage. But working out how the appearance of Salmond’s new party affects what happens is a considerable challenge, thanks to Scotland’s infernally complex voting system.
To paraphrase Lord Palmerston’s reference to the Schleswig-Holstein question, it may be that only around three people truly understand the D’Hondt voting system employed in Scottish parliamentary elections, though there are probably more, who like the fabled German professor, have gone mad trying to figure it out.
Salmond clearly believes that he understands it though, and that it can be exploited in favour of independence. He has been open about the strategy of his new party, which is to win enough seats to hold the balance of power in a ‘super majority’ (SNP + Alba + Greens?) for separation. The Alba party is standing only list candidates in May’s election, which means their vote tally will not be divided by the number of constituencies they win. They could pick up 25 seats, or even more, if the majority of pro-independence supporters vote for them.
The hope is that this newly-created power block will pressurise the UK government into granting a Section 30 order authorising a second referendum: or, failing that, provide the parliamentary muscle, and media prominence, to pursue an alternative route to independence through the courts. This latter strategy would, apparently, be bolstered by ‘peaceful street demonstrations’.
It is worth dwelling on this plan B and considering what it means in terms of democracy.