Alex Salmond – may the force be with him
Recognized worldwide as one of the most talented politicians of his and other generations Alex had a high-profile in Scottish politics even before winning two historic Holyrood elections as SNP leader and securing a mandate to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
Born in Linlithgow in 1954, he graduated from St Andrews University and took up a career in economics working first for the Scottish Office before moving to the Royal Bank of Scotland.
He began his parliamentary career as MP for Banff and Buchan in 1987, building a small team of dedicated supporters who would remain loyal throughout his time in politics.
He served as Party leader from 1990, standing down after 10 years but was persuaded to return and rescue the Party that was near collapse under the uninspired leadership of John Swinney.
Portrayed by Unionists as arrogant and self-serving, he confounded his critics when under his stewardship Party fortunes recovered dramatically and on a platform of fighting for Scottish independence he led it into government in 2007 and in a barnstorming election campaign in 2011 he achieved the impossible getting the Party back into power with an overall majority of MSP’s.
The 2014 referendum
The result of the 2014 Independence Referendum shattered Alex who had led a hard-fought campaign for a “Yes” vote. And the day after the result he dropped the bombshell announcing he was standing down as first minister and S.N.P. leader.
The 2015 General Election
At the time of his unexpected resignation Alex could not have foreseen the SNP landslide victory only six months later in the 2015 General Election. The momentous change in the fortunes of the party was brought about by the disgraceful backsliding after the referendum of “Unionist” politicians interested only in containing Scots within the existing political constraints. The much touted joint Unionist commitment to fully implement their “Vow” !!!!……to devolve substantive new powers to Scotland, just short of independence proved to be yet another a “big lie” that broke the hearts of many Scots who had voted to remain in the Union on the substance of Unionist promises.
Alex, had been persuaded by his supporters, in the Gordon constituency to remain active in Scottish politics, but this would be at Westminster in a role that did not impinge on Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the Party. But in an extraordinary turn of events the Party leadership did not embrace the wishes of local Party activists believing the election of Alex to Westminster would undermine the authority of Nicola Sturgeon who was enjoying the fruits of successful politicking handed to her on a plate by Alex when he stood down from his leadership role. But the local Party team prevailed and Alex was selected as the Party candidate for Gordon. He went on to win the seat. Putting the boot into the Unionists Fifty-five other SNP candidates were also elected.
The SNP at Westminster
After leading the large contingent of SNP MP’s into the House of Commons Angus Robertson who was appointed leader of the team at Westminster, said:
“Westminster is going through culture shock in coming to terms with the fact the SNP did so well in the election. That we are here in such strong numbers, elected as Scots who support independence, is also not lost on them. We were elected to pursue an anti-austerity agenda and more devolved powers for Scotland and we will do just that.”
The final sentence in his statement dictated the approach and conduct of the SNP at Westminster. It should have read:
“We were elected to pursue independence for Scotland and we will do just that.”
The large block of SNP MP’s were rich with talent and enthusiasm but lacked political experience and badly underestimated the strength of the bias against any challenge to the Unionist dominated Westminster political system.
The one shining light was Alex Salmond, who having accepted his place at Westminster would exclude his direct input into Scottish matters took on the duties of “Foreign Affairs” spokesman for the Party. It was a role to which he was well suited and he was able to deal effectively with a truculent “Speaker” and a truculent Unionist majority. It was satisfying to witness him commanding the stage when he spoke to his brief, but there was a sadness observing him sitting on the fringe near the rear of the SNP group watching the ineffectual efforts of his leader Angus Robertson..
2017 General Election
The unexpected 2017 General Election brought with it unwelcome efforts by the Party leadership to pressurise Alex to retire from politics. The advice being that, as an elder statesman of the Party he would be better suited to less taxing work in the media through the many contacts who had provided him with numerous television and radio appearances over the years. But, spurning the opportunity of a new direction Alex decided to stand, once again for a seat at Westminster, representing Banff and Buchan.
Peter Murrell’s cock-up
The SNP leadership had not expected another election so soon and failed to inspire Party activists to get out and support the cause with result that some candidates failed to be re-elected. There were also issues about the lack of financial and campaigning support for candidates who were not seen to be fully committed to the ideals of Nicola Sturgeon and her team within a team at Party headquarters.
The Unionist’s were well ahead of the political game and introduced “tactical voting” to Scottish politics setting aside their political differences and jointly campaigning in a number of Scottish constituencies, (in particular the North East) where the incumbent SNP MP would be vulnerable to a low percentage swing in the voting.
Another factor was the ineffective performance of the large body of SNP MP’s at Westminster which had exposed the futility of sending SNP MP’s to Westminster. Unionist politicians enthusiastically seized the opportunity given over to them by the inexperienced and complacent SNP leadership and planted seeds of confusion and apathy among Scots voters. Faced with these drawbacks Alex and a number of other SNP candidates failed in their bids for re-election.
Alex Bows Out of Front-line politics
Alex accepted a need to change direction and considered a future in the media, the most promising of which was as the editor of a major Scottish tabloid newspaper. But the new venture failed to materialize, due to the political pressure of Unionist supporting financial backers with result that he became increasingly dependent on appearance invitations from the right wing media and BBC. But shock and horror, he was also denied that platform through Unionist controlled entities. Lesser persons would have given up the ghost. But not Alex, who turned to the English language television and radio station, Russia Today (RT). And having been given written assurances there would be no censorship or any other pressure applied to himself, his guests or content, he signed up to produce and present a weekly current affairs television show. The show proved to be a hit with viewers (it still is) and with his future assured Alex was a happy bunny once again. All’s well that ends well!!
Not quite. Nicola Sturgeon had not long before returned to Scotland from the US where she had been feted and fawned over by influential women’s political groups. The politics of the reborn Sturgeon had changed. “Independence” was out replaced with the buzzword “accommodation”. And her philosophy did not extend any accommodation to Putin and Russia. She joined with the Unionist and criticised Alex for taking up the offer of free airtime with RT. A real stab in the back for Alex from a person he had guided and mentored for many years.