Alba Party: Alex Salmond tries to attract female voters with women-only conference

Promise to put women ‘front and centre’ comes as another SNP councillor defects

Alex Salmond backs street demonstrations to win independence

Alex Salmond’s new political party is making an audacious bid to appeal to female voters in Scotland, in an effort to distance the former SNP leader from the saga over sexual misconduct complaints.

The new, pro-independence Alba Party is to stage a women-only conference on 10 April, and has pledged to put women at the “front and centre” of key decisions.

It comes as SNP councillor Michelle Ferns has become the latest defector to the Alba Party, amid the ongoing “psychodrama” between Nicola Sturgeon and her former boss.

The Glasgow councillor intends to stand on the regional list for the Holyrood election in May, saying she wanted to help deliver the Alba Party’s plan for a “supermajority” for Scottish independence.

Mr Salmond claimed Ms Ferns – one of four SNP councillors to have defected to the Alba Party – had “proven she is a strong advocate for social justice and women in the city”.

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It follows the decision by two SNP MPs, Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey, to quit Ms Sturgeon’s party and jump ship and join Mr Salmond’s new outfit at the weekend.

Caroline McAllister, elected SNP national women’s officer in November, has also quit her post and defected to Mr Salmond’s party.

“I’m really looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Alba Party to ensure women’s rights are front and centre of the new Scottish parliament I hope to be a member of,” she said on Sunday.

Mr Salmond was cleared of sexual assault charges last year. Separately, the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment claims was found to be unlawful – leading to long-running inquiries into the conduct of Ms Sturgeon and her administration.

Asked on Sunday whether his own behaviour towards women made him unfit for office, Mr Salmond said: “I am not going to say a word in this campaign, denigrating either the SNP or indeed any other party. I’m not rising to any bait whatsoever.”

The former first minister – who has claimed he was victim of a “malicious” conspiracy by senior SNP figures – also told Times Radio he was willing to share a stage with Ms Sturgeon, but it did not necessarily mean “forgiveness” of her perceived betrayal.

Mr Salmond said “people who have differences have to sink their differences”, and added that he was “well prepared to do that”.

Salmond and Sturgeon campaigning in 2011

Ms Sturgeon condemned Mr Salmond’s attempt to stage a political comeback on Sunday – accusing him of acting out of self-interest.

She said “serious questions have been raised about the appropriateness of his behaviour towards women”, which – she claimed – “raises real questions about the appropriateness of any return to public office”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused Ms Sturgeon’s party of getting lost in internal battles, adding: “This election cannot be about an SNP psychodrama.”

The country’s top polling guru, Professor John Curtice, has said that if less than 5 per cent of Scots are minded to vote for Mr Salmond’s new party “then he is running the risk of emerging from the election empty handed”.

Prof Curtice suggested the Alba Party would need to get to 7 per cent or 8 per cent of the vote to pick up a regional list seat. But the expert said it was possible that Mr Salmond could get elected in the north east of Scotland region he is contesting.

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