Salmond says independence plan is price for Yousaf support

Alba leader Alex Salmond has said a renewed push for Scottish independence is the price of his party’s support for Humza Yousaf’s minority SNP government.

The former first minister told BBC News the party’s sole MSP Ash Regan would meet Mr Yousaf ahead of two no-confidence votes expected at the Scottish Parliament next week.

Mr Salmond also called for a move away from "identity politics" and a shift towards the "people's priorities" - health, housing, transport, education, jobs and industry.

Mr Yousaf's survival as first minister may depend on how Ms Regan casts her vote.

The BBC understands Mr Yousaf has already ruled out an electoral pact with Alba to maximise pro-independence parliamentarians, an idea which Mr Salmond has previously pushed for.

Alex Salmond once led the SNP but formed Alba, a rival pro-independence party, after a bitter falling out with Mr Yousaf's predecessor Nicola Sturgeon.

He said serious consideration should be given to a plan put forward by Alba for a referendum to be held on whether the Scottish Parliament should have the power to legislate for and conduct another independence vote.

Alba also wants a convention to be held of all pro-independence groupings to agree a strategy.

He told BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “The specific proposals that Ash Regan has, she has a bill in the Scottish parliament to extend the powers it has to include the legislation for the negotiation for independence.

“We’ve got every reason to believe that is within the competence of the Parliament and we’d like a discussion on that.

“And secondly there’s the idea of an independence convention, something that has been widely canvassed by the independence movement and could put independence back onto the front pages and top of the list of priorities of the Scottish government.”

Two confidence votes

Humza Yousaf is facing two confidence votes in the Scottish Parliament next week, possibly as early as Wednesday, after he abruptly ended the SNP's power sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.

One motion from the Scottish Conservatives is focused on Mr Yousaf himself as first minister. It is non-binding although it would be hard for him to remain in post if it was carried.

A second Scottish Labour motion would force the whole Scottish government to resign if passed.

The SNP has 63 MSPs in the 129-seat parliament and opposition parties have 65, meaning Mr Yousaf would be defeated if the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and the sole Alba MSP, Ms Regan, all voted against him.

Ash Regan stood against Humza Yousaf in the SNP leadership contest last year, following Nicola Sturgeon's resignation, but came third and later defected to Alba.

If the government loses, MSPs would have 28 days to agree by majority on a new first minister, or automatically trigger a Scottish parliamentary election.

Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes
Mr Yousaf could be forced to rely on the support of former leadership rival Ms Regan, pictured left [PA Media]

Mr Salmond said Alba’s demands were “reasonable” and called for the SNP to refocus on independence rather than “divisive” culture and identity politics.

He said: “All independence supporters should want to see that whether they are in Alba or the SNP which I why I describe Ash Regan’s ideas as extremely reasonable proposals.”

Alba's executive will meet later on Sunday to lay out Ms Regan’s demands ahead of talks with Mr Yousaf.

BBC News understands the first minister has ruled out an electoral pact with Alba for the general election or next Holyrood election.

Mr Salmond said Alba, whose two MPs, single MSP and two local councillors were all elected under the banner of the SNP, was ready to contest an early Holyrood election if necessary.

He predicted that under the proportional representation system his party would win a significant number of MSPs.

Mr Yousaf's decision on Thursday to end the power sharing deal with the Scottish Greens, known as the Bute House Agreement, led to angry recriminations from the SNP's former partners in government.

The SNP’s former Westminster leader Ian Blackford on Sunday apologised to the Scottish Greens for how the ending of the deal had been handled.

He told BBC's Laura Kuenssberg: “I apologise for what has happened this week, it could have happened in a different way, but we are where we are.

“I would say [to the Greens], don’t throw it away this week.

“Show your faith and trust in the first minister. We are where we are. We can make sure this government can deliver on the priorities for the people of Scotland if we make sure Humza Yousaf remains our first minister.”

'Breach of trust'

Greens co-leader Lorna Slater told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show there was little recourse available in talks with the SNP while Mr Yousaf remained first minister.

She said the “short but civil” meeting at Bute House on Thursday morning which resulted in the agreement being terminated was a “spectacular breach of trust”.

The party is assessing its options before responding to Mr Yousaf’s offer of talks but Ms Slater said they were preparing for every eventuality – including the prospect of an early Holyrood election.

“We will vote in support of a vote of no confidence in Humza Yousaf and I cannot imagine anything at this point that could change that position,” she said.

“We said all along that it [the agreement] was based on trust and respect, and I still have trust and respect for a lot of my SNP colleagues, but Humza Yousaf has broken that and he needs to face the consequences.

“We are ready for an election. We are ready and willing to put our hat in the ring.”

Resignation call

The first minister wrote to all of Scotland’s major parties on Friday evening to request meetings at Bute House in a bid to find “common ground”.

The Scottish Conservatives rejected that invitation on Saturday.

That was followed on Sunday by another rejection, this time by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Their leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, echoed calls from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross for Mr Yousaf to resign his position.

Should Ms Regan vote with the SNP to force a tie, presiding officer Alison Johnstone would have the casting ballot – which under parliamentary rules is always in favour of the status quo.

However, Mr Ross told the Sunday Show that outcome would not be a show of confidence in Mr Yousaf’s ability to govern.

He said the Conservatives had reached out to all the other parties ahead of the vote to convince them to back their motion, and his party would also back Labour's motion of no confidence in the entire government.

“Humza Yousaf cannot continue as first minister. As I said to him yesterday in my letter, he must resign, his time in office is over,” he told the Sunday Show.

“Even if he scrapes through with the support of Alex Salmond, he is finished anyway. That is not holding the confidence of the entire Scottish Parliament.

“I think it was an embarrassing and humiliating letter from the first minister and shows how desperate he is to cling on to his job.”

Andrew Kerr analysis

It could have been a day for making-up after Thursday's brutal break-up - but it's not be.

The former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford apologised to the Greens for the way this was handled.

But they’re still angry and upset - and as you can see the co-leader Lorna Slater is not for budging.

They still want to back the no confidence motion in the First Minister.

There could be talks but the Greens can't backtrack on that commitment now.

So, with no hope of reconciliation and tight numbers, the Alba MSP Ash Regan is front and centre.

Opponents say Alex Salmond is taking great delight in being the ringmaster.

He's emphasising that his Alba party can be constructive here.

He wants independence back right at the top of the agenda and the focus to be on the people's priorities.

But SNP parliamentarians balk at Mr Salmond’s return to the fray. One told me they couldn't even bear to even discuss this.

The Alba vote could be the saving one - but is there a danger that "progressive" SNP MSPs then rebel?

A senior government source told me that they wouldn't seek Alba support at "any price".

That's intended to assuage those concerns.

And what about the man himself at the centre of this?

Humza Yousaf is said to be "OK", the source adding that he's a "resilient character".

However, his abrupt ending of the Bute House Agreement may very well still result this week in the ending of his Bute House tenancy.