Second SNP MP defects to the Alba party - as Sturgeon questions Salmond's suitability and motivation for his return to frontline politics

Salmond launched pro-Scottish independence party Alba, which will stand at least four candidates in each Scottish region at 6 May elections

Sturgeon has accused Salmond of launching Alba for his own self interest and ego (Picture: Getty Images)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing new concern over the internal integrity of her party, as two SNP MPs defected to the new Scottish independence party, Alba.

Alba was launched by Alex Salmond on Thursday (25 March) and is expected to split the SNP list vote in the upcoming Scottish parliament elections.

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On Saturday, Sturgeon told how she was concerned about Salmond standing for election - after he announced he will now run for election in the North East region for Hollyrood.

She said there are “significant questions about the appropriateness of his return to public office given the concerns that have been raised about his behaviour previously.”

Salmond was acquitted of 12 charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault last year.

He then suggested he was the victim of a witch-hunt by the SNP, but last week Sturgeon was found not to have intentionally broken the ministerial code by misrepresenting dates and meetings in which she heard of the formal complaints against him and met with him to discuss these.

Sturgeon shared her concerns over Salmond’s “self interest and ego” for launching the party, while Salmond said the aim of his party was to secure a “independence super-majority.”

She has now been faced with the first defect of an SNP MP to join Mr Salmond and his Alba party.

MP Kenny MacAskill, the former justice secretary, will stand as a candidate on the Lothian regional list and is now the Alba Party's first MP at Westminster.

On Sunday, it emerged Neale Hanvey had also moved across to Alba.

Following his defection, Hanvey said: "Like so many, I have been angered by our powerlessness in the face of Brexit and share the frustration of many who feel the aspirations of the independence movement are being ignored.

"The Alba Party provides a tonic for our movement with an unashamedly optimistic vision for Scotland's impending transition to an independent European nation."

In February, Hanvey was sacked from his frontbench role as vaccines spokesman at Westminster.

He was also suspended from the SNP, following the use of anti-Semitic language on social media. He later apologised for any offence caused.

The SNP have insisted only both votes for them on 6 May will ensure a mandate for a second independence referendum.

Asked about Mr Salmond's vision of securing a "super-majority", Ms Sturgeon said: "I know Alex Salmond very well. He makes big claims which often don't stand up to scrutiny."

The first minister added her predecessor has changed his mind on how to secure independence due to "self interest and, dare I say it, ego".

She added: "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."

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused pro-independence parties of playing games and insisted "this election cannot be about an SNP psychodrama."

Scottish Tories Douglas Ross called on Labour and Lib Dems to join his party to work against pro-independence parties, but Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign chairman Alistair Carmichael insisted that the politics of the Tory leader were "far too dark and divisive".