Scottish Election 2021: Nicola Sturgeon warns off Alex Salmond as she says she'll serve another five years

Nicola Sturgeon has warned Alex Salmond he cannot “bulldoze” his way to independence, as she said she would serve a full parliamentary term if re-elected.

The First Minister also said Mr Salmond’s attempt to be returned to Holyrood “sent the wrong message” to women about what behaviour was acceptable in public life, and revealed that his standing for election was “not easy” for some of the women who had complained about his behaviour in the past.

Speaking to journalists on Friday in between election campaign stops, Ms Sturgeon was asked about the impact of Mr Salmond’s return to frontline politics and whether his motivation for taking leadership of the Alba Party and standing in the regional list in the north east of Scotland was a form of “revenge”.

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"You have have to ask him that,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s [the Alba Party] a help to the independence cause. If anything it hinders it.

Nicola Sturgeon on the election campaign trail.

"I don’t know what they stand for. Independence for me is about the kind of country you’re trying to build and I don’t know what their vision for that is, and if it gets the Nigel Farage seal of approval I don’t think its necessarily a vision I would sign up to.

“I could choose more diplomatic language, but sometimes you have to say it as you see it, that I think there are questions about the appropriateness of Alex Salmond’s return to public office.

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“I know some of the women who made complaints against him and I know it’s not making things easier for them.

"If you have someone who has behaved, in some ways by his own admission inappropriately towards women – though not criminally and no-one is arguing that – and can’t even seem to accept that he was inappropriate let alone apologise for it, it does pose risks of sending entirely the wrong message to people and women in particular.”

Referring to the recent poll that put Alba on just 3 per cent, which would mean none of its candidates would be elected, Ms Sturgeon said it was taken at too early a stage to “rest too much on it”, but warned pro-independence voters not to “gamble” with their vote and “risk jeopardising the SNP majority”.

She said she did not support Mr Salmond’s tactics to produce a super-majority of pro-independence parties at Holyrood.

“I’m a believer that we have to persuade people to support independence, win people’s trust, build confidence in independence, which I think we’ve been making progress on,” she said.

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"You can’t bulldoze your way to independence and I don’t think the tone and approach of the Alba Party is likely to attract undecided former no voters. It’s more likely to put them off.”

Asked if she would be happy to share a TV debate platform with Mr Salmond, she said: “I don’t get to decide who appears. I’ll be there representing the SNP. Looking at it objectively in terms of the conditions I understand have to be met, I can’t see his party meets those conditions, but that’s a matter for the broadcasters and Ofcom.”

And on the MPs who have defected to Alba from the SNP, Ms Sturgeon said: “People make up their own mind about what party they want to be members of. I suspect Alex Salmond would have been expecting a bigger defection of elected SNP representatives to his new party.

"Kenny MacAskill has not been comfortable in the SNP for some time and he’s made his decision. He should remember though he was elected as an MP as an SNP candidate and perhaps we should all be clearer that when somebody moves party, they maybe have a duty to allow the voters to decide that.”

Ms Sturgeon, who has already served six-and-a-half years as First Minister, said she was putting herself “forward for a full term of office” should she be elected – which would see her remain in office longer than Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

“It’s entirely up to them [the Scottish voters] and I’ve learned to take every election as it comes and not take the voters for granted,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon reiterated that a second independence referendum would have to wait until the Covid crisis has passed – the timing of that, she said, would be for the new parliament to judge, though the World Health Organisation view on when the pandemic is over would be “part of that”.

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She said: “As we come out of the crisis, recovery is not a neutral concept. What kind of country you want to recover to involves values-based judgements and involves making the right policy choices and that’s where the question of where decision-making powers lies becomes important, and in that context the question and decision about independence becomes important, but for as long as necessary my focus will be on getting the country through the Covid crisis.”

However, the First Minister admitted the SNP as a party had begun the “work and preparation” on a second referendum, though the government focus was on Covid.

She also said there was no reason to change the form of question in any new vote on independence and it should remain a Yes or No choice.

“We used the question in 2014,” she said.

“I have not heard from anyone, apart from politicians with a vested interest, that it wasn’t intelligible and understandable, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t use the question again, and the onus must be on those arguing something different to make that case.”

She added: “I don’t see independence as leaving somewhere. We’re not going anywhere, we’re just changing our relationship with the rest of UK and British isles.”

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