Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has been accused of “flagrantly endangering public health” after inviting more than 100 candidates and activists to a campaign event outside the Scottish Parliament.
Opposition politicians accused the party of being “reckless and irresponsible” after inviting a large group to attend a gathering on Sunday to illustrate that women are “voting with their feet to protect women’s rights”.
Alba claim their event was “fully compliant” with the Scottish Government’s guidance on election activity and called on Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to apologise for criticism made by a party spokesman.
According to Alba’s website, “15 of Alba’s women candidates took part and were joined by around another 100 women who ‘voted with their feet’ and placed shoes outside the Parliament as a symbolic gesture for women’s rights”.
📝 Today at the Scots Parliament, ALBA's women candidates proclaimed their support for Women's sex-based rights and vowed if elected on 6 May, to work every day to be a strong voice for Women's equality 🏴 #AlbaWomenRising
— ALBA Party (@AlbaParty) May 2, 2021
The event was arranged to illustrate the party’s commitment to “maintain and preserve” sex-based protections set out in the 2010 Equality Act, including single-sex spaces, and to highlight sex-based violence and inequality.
Election candidates and their agents are allowed to travel to the constituency or region in which they are standing if their activity cannot be done from home, and party leaders are allowed to travel with “the minimal number necessary of supporting staff”.
However, under current coronavirus rules, election hopefuls have been told a maximum of six people from six households are able to meet up at any one time, similar to existing rules on gatherings.
‘Plumbing new depths’
Scottish Labour claimed Alex Salmond’s “grim and grievance ridden campaign has plumbed new depths” following the event.
“Even people living under a rock know he isn’t serious about women’s rights,” a spokesman said. “That his party would decide to highlight such an obvious flaw while flagrantly endangering public health tells you everything you need to know.”
Women in Scotland are Voting With Their Feet in this election. 🏴
Our amazing #AlbaWomen are committed to protecting and preserving the rights of women and girls.
🗳️ On May 6 – For Scotland, For Women #VoteAlba
— ALBA Party (@AlbaParty) May 3, 2021
Mr Salmond said last week that it was “high time” people moved on from his appearance at the High Court on sexual assault charges, of which he was acquitted.
But a poll for the Herald newspaper, conducted by BMG Research, found 63% of Scots do not consider him a fit and proper person to become an MSP, with just 9% of women and 14% of men believing it would be acceptable for him to return to Holyrood.
Heather McLean, who is standing for Alba in the North East region, insisted candidates and activists attended Sunday’s event “safely” to highlight the importance of women “voting with their feet in this election to demand our sex-based rights are protected”.
“Police Scotland were in presence and their only concern was if our female candidates had received further abuse which we had received from men when we first gathered,” she said. “As women, we have the right to protect our sex-based rights.
“It is bitterly disappointing that a Scottish Labour spokesman has decided to attack women with the age-old stereotype that women can’t think and organise for ourselves.
“We can, and we will. Anas Sarwar should apologise on his party’s behalf for this attack. To Alba, protecting the hard-earned rights of women matters.”
‘Reckless and irresponsible’
However, other parties also hit out at Alba over the campaign event and suggested activists should have been better briefed on the rules.
Rosemary Bruce, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the North East region, said it is “reckless and irresponsible for any party to be encouraging large gatherings and a disregard for social distancing”.
“People have made huge sacrifices for months on end to drive out the virus,” she said. “This is the kind of wrecking ball approach that Alex Salmond will bring to Parliament if he is elected.”
The Scottish Conservative chief whip, Miles Briggs, said: “While the situation surrounding Covid has undoubtedly improved, there are still clear restrictions in place over how many people can meet up.
“That obviously applies to political candidates and parties as well, who all have a duty to be mindful of this at all times.
“Alba candidates should have been fully aware of this before organising this photo op.
“With only a few days to go in the campaign, parties are undoubtedly keen to get their message out there, but this should be done in a safe manner within the guidelines and in a way that doesn’t risk any transmission of the virus in our communities.”