Alex Salmond has demanded his new Alba Party be included in TV debates in the run-up to May’s Scottish Parliament election – insisting there is an “unanswerable” case for doing so.
The former SNP leader is to write to the broadcasters involved and the regulator Ofcom in a bid to ensure “fairness and parity of coverage” in the election campaign.
It comes less than a week after Mr Salmond was unveiled as leader of Scotland’s newest political party – which is fielding 32 candidates on the regional list section of the Holyrood ballot.
Mr Salmond said he is “confident” membership of his party will “overtake that of the Liberal Democrats” on Friday, claiming thousands of people have already joined Alba.
Mr Salmond said: “We have waited until the declaration of candidates before writing. Now given our strength, the case for Alba participation in debates and fair coverage is unanswerable. We expect a positive reply.”
The Alba Party’s list of Holyrood candidates includes Mr Salmond himself and two members who were elected as SNP MPs at Westminster in the last general election – former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey, who was suspended from the SNP when he was elected to the Commons in 2019.
Mr Salmond said: “It is less than a week since launch and already Alba has a comparable number of members to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens and are contesting seats across Scotland.”
Labour only currently has one Scottish MP, and Mr Salmond highlighted that his party has “double the Westminster parliamentary representation of the Labour Party in Scotland”.
The Alba Party was not included in the first televised debate of the Scottish election campaign, which saw Nicola Sturgeon – Mr Salmond’s successor as SNP leader and First Minister – take on her rivals from the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Mr Salmond insisted the importance of arguments over independence in the campaign means it is crucial his party is included in further debates.
He said his name had been “mentioned a number of times with no recourse” in that first television debate.
He added: “There is however a further important reason favouring Alba inclusion in the leadership debates – the dominating issue of the election is independence. If the TV companies stick to their present position, every debate will be imbalanced three to two against independence. With Alba’s representation, at a stroke, the independence argument will be balanced three apiece.”
Speaking at an online press conference, Mr Salmond said: “Already, after less than a week since launch, we are a national party putting up a serious challenge and can argue we have got a significant following already.
“We are firmly of the opinion at the rate of membership increase that our membership will overtake that of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
“We expect in the coming weeks to overtake the membership of the Green Party and the Conservative Party as well, unless they of course have an unexpected surge in membership.
“I think the Alba Party has added some excitement to the Scottish political scene, I think we would add something distinctive to the political debates.
“I think more people will watch if Alba are participating than will watch if Alba are excluded in the debates.”
Speaking to journalists later on Thursday, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “It’s for the broadcasting authorities to decide but he can’t bully his way in to this debate, he needs to earn it.
“I’m sure the BBC and STV will be robust in their position on that.”
He said the nationalist movement has become “fragmented” while the debates around Mr Salmond over the last few weeks had been “ugly and poisonous”.
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon has effectively lost control of the nationalist movement she had a pretty firm grip on before.”
An Ofcom spokesman said: “We haven’t yet received Mr Salmond’s letter, but we will consider it appropriately.
“Our general position is that Ofcom does not determine the line-up or format of any leaders’ debates. These are editorial matters for the broadcasters.”
A BBC spokesman said: “Nominations have now closed so we’ll be looking, as we always do at this stage in an election campaign, at our future plans for coverage in line with our guidelines and Ofcom’s guidance.”