UK Politics Odds: Scottish independence in the balance amid Salmond v Sturgeon

  • Max Liu
  • 4:00 min read
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond
Happier times - Sturgeon and Salmond campaigning together in 2015

The feud between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond is intensifying but does it have the potential to derail the SNP? Not if the polls and odds for May's Scottish elections are correct says Max Liu...

Angus Robertson is the 4/1 favourite to succeed Sturgeon as first minister. He is followed in the market by Kate Forbes 5/1 and John Swinney 6/1.

You can get 5/6 on Scotland voting for independence at the next referendum - although it's odds-on to happen no sooner than 2025 - even though two of its biggest champions are currently locked in a toxic battle with each other.

So does the feud between SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond have the potential to derail the campaign for independence? And could it dent the SNP's chances of winning a majority in this year's Scottish elections?

Salmond takes aim at Sturgeon

This week, Salmond made his long-awaited appearance at the Scottish Parliament inquiry into the government's handling of harassment allegations - of which he was acquitted in a court of law - against the former-first minister.

If you were hoping for drama from Salmond's return to Holyrood then you won't have been disappointed.

Salmond said he had "no doubt" that Sturgeon breached the ministerial code. He claimed Scotland was being let down by its current leadership and implied that the country is not ready for independence.

That's remarkable coming from a man who was for many years the face of independence movement, especially when we remember that Salmond and Sturgeon worked together closely for many years.

Salmond led the SNP for 20 years, with Sturgeon as his deputy for a decade before she became leader and first minister following the 2014 referendum on independence. Now Salmond says people very close to Sturgeon were waging a campaign against him. Sturgeon has accused her former comrade of "wild conspiracy theories."

Prior to his appearance on Friday the controversy didn't appear to be damaging the SNP or the cause of independence. A poll this week gave an indication of Sturgeon's popularity in Scotland, placing her far beyond leaders of other parties, although her numbers had dropped.

This weekend a poll showed support for independence waning so the two sides were practically level. The Sunday Mail, which commissioned the survey, call it a "bombshell" but I put a pinch of salt on my porridge while reading that this morning. After all, for almost six months polls had shown independence in the lead.

Does this mean Boris Johnson, who has said there should be no new referendum on independence for 40 years, will be the ultimate beneficiary of Sturgeon versus Salmond?

It's far too early to say but you can be sure Downing Street is watching Holyrood closely and will try to exploit events there at the most opportune moment. Michael Gove is heading up the UK government's campaign to keep Scotland in the union.

SNP still on course to win majority

The timing of the Scottish parliament's inquiry is terrible for the SNP, coming just three months before elections which could prove pivotal for the future of the union.

Polling has put the SNP on course to win a commanding majority in May - something Sturgeon has said she would interpret as the mandate for a referendum.

The SNP need 65 seats for a majority at Holyrood and projections have shown them landing 70 or more with both Labour and the Tories losing seats.

Nicola Sturgeon and Scots flag.jpg

On the Exchanges markets have opened on the Scottish elections and you can bet on the SNPs' seats total.

The SNP have performed well in UK general elections in the past decade and now have 48 seats at Westminster where they're the third largest party. While Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were ripped apart by in-fighting in the 2010s, the SNP appeared united by a common cause and stable leadership.

Now that could be changing and Angus Robertson is the 4/1 favourite to succeed Sturgeon as first minister. He is followed in the market by Kate Forbes 5/1 and John Swinney 6/1.

This market will be worth watching, especially as Sturgeon gives her evidence to the Scottish parliament this week and the feud between two of the most talented political operators of recent decades continues.

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