Nicola Sturgeon has warned now is “not the time to gamble” with Scotland’s future as she said there were “significant questions” about Alex Salmond’s return to politics.
The SNP leader made her comments after her predecessor and former mentor confirmed he would be standing for his newly-formed Alba Party as a regional list candidate in May’s Scottish Parliament election.
Mr Salmond said he hopes to create a “supermajority” of pro-independence supporters at Holyrood.
His party’s launch comes amid bitter nationalist infighting in Scotland underlined by the defection of former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill – the first big name to join the new party.
In response, the SNP hit back arguing Mr MacAskill had become “an increasing embarrassment” and his departure was “somewhat of a relief”.
Describing Mr Salmond as a “gambler”, the first minister said: “I take no pleasure whatsoever in saying this but I think there are significant questions about the appropriateness of his return to public office given the concerns that have been raised about his behaviour previously but that’s for voters to judge and decide.”
Mr Salmond said his party would be carrying a “positive” campaign and urged voters to back the SNP or another pro-independence party in the constituency seats.
The Alba Party will only be standing candidates in the regional lists in an attempt to boost separatist numbers in Holyrood.
But Ms Sturgeon said: “Elections should never be games, they are serious, particularly at this time for the country.
“This is a really serious choice that people have. It’s not an opportunity to gamble with the future of the country.
“Alex Salmond is a gambler. It is what he enjoys doing. But this is not the time to gamble with the future of the country.”
Speaking to Sky News, Mr MacAskill said: “This is not the Alex Salmond party, it’s the Alba Party.
“This is the time we have to act. Scotland cannot go on under the heel of Boris Johnson.
“Tory governments have been rejected throughout my entire life. Scotland must tune its own way.
“That’s why we cannot dilly-dally. We have to deliver and independence supermajority.
“We have to make sure that Scottish people decide their own futures, because we can make a better country.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross is seeking urgent talks with the leaders of the other pro-UK parties, urging them to unite and work together to stop pro-independence parties winning a majority at Holyrood.
He said the aim of the new Alba Party to win seats on Holyrood’s regional lists showed nationalists were looking to “game the system to ensure our Parliament and the focus of the next five years is all on independence, rather than on our recovery”.
Mr Ross argued Mr Salmond was “unfit to hold office”.
He said: “I don’t think he should be seeking election to the Scottish Parliament, given the behaviour he himself has admitted, the appalling behaviour against women who worked with him when he was first minister of Scotland.
“I think that makes him unfit to hold public office again.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the upcoming election should be fought on the basis of tackling issues like poverty and recovery from coronavirus.
He added: “The idea that our politics gets focused instead on this psychodrama infighting by the SNP, gets taken over by big egos, is just not credible.”