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Hammer of the Unionists -The Legacy of Alex Salmond is only partially complete

Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) | Twitter

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.

Scottish Referendum: The Possible Price of Independence | Time

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.

Alex Salmond resigns following defeat in Scottish independence referendum

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.

Will Alex Salmond's rage be the downfall of Nicola Sturgeon?

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..

Alex Salmond accused of not listening to voters over Scottish Independence | UK | News | Express.co.uk

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.

Could Alex Salmond bring down Nicola Sturgeon? - BBC News

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.

SNP Spring Conference 2014: Alex Salmond - independence vote 'opportunity of a lifetime' | Scotland | News | Express.co.uk

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.

Scottish Independence By RachelGold | Politics Cartoon | TOONPOOL

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Early days of the Union and Scots are already under the English cosh

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General Wade

Walpole and the Whigs

The Whigs fared badly at the 1724/5 election and lost many supporters but Cock-a-hoop with their malt tax victory over the Scots Walpole’s new government put the boot in and forced even more commodity taxes on Scotland. The recently increased Scottish presence at Westminster counted for nothing since with a built-in majority guaranteeing its power England cared nothing for Scottish opinion.

Mindful of General Wade’s attack on Glasgow and the murder of civilians just a year or so before Scots were well aware of the threat of the English military should any violence occur and took a new tack by forming into political groups. These, in turn, merged and over the next ten years of the Whig government, the movement developed into a potent political force at Westminster. But victories were not so significant as to cause Walpole to worry unduly.

Porteous Riots Edinburgh

But England was not without its problems on the political front as an increasing number of Whigs became disillusioned with Walpole’s authoritarian style of leadership and his foreign and economic policies which alienated the United Kingdom from Europe and the world. Adopting the title, “The Patriots” a new political grouping evolved and claiming to be the protectors of the unwritten English constitution attracted a significant following and the support of the Scottish politicians at Westminster.

Around this time the English press was just taking off with its reach extending outside London into the provinces and the “Patriots” were quick to use the new medium to inform the public of their aims and aspirations. But achieving change was a slow process and political guerrilla tactics adopted by the “Patriots” took time to wear down Walpole and his ultra-right-wing English centred supporters who had ruled the roost for so long years.

The election of 1734 provided the opportunity to challenge Walpole’s Whigs and the “Patriots”, in an alliance with Scottish peers did just that making maximum use of the media to get its message across to the nation. And the message was!! That there was nothing wrong with the recently formed United Kingdom. The way forward was to embrace and enhance a fully integrated nation-state under a Protestant monarch. Scots peers responded positively and support for Walpole’s Whigs in Scotland began to waver. A new newspaper, the “Thistle” published weekly, was widely circulated in the central belt, less so in the highlands who had not been persuaded to the “Patriot” cause preferring a return of the Stuart divine-right monarchy. The political message, “there is another way” resonated well with Scots. The problem for many was “which way”.

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Walpole

The “Patriots” agenda promoted the message that a victory for them would bring a return to a political system true to the content of the Acts of Union ensuring equal rights for all. The strategy failed because of the limited reach of the campaign and the “Patriots” changed tack and concentrated their efforts in the professional sectors of Glasgow and Edinburgh and failed to extend it to the rest of Scotland. So not enough people got the message!!! But they did make inroads in the cities!!

In England Walpole’s Whigs took a beating but retained power which meant that Scotland was bang in the firing line for more harsh treatment at their hands.

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The Porteous Crisis 1737/38

The crisis brought Scots of all political persuasions together under the “Patriot” banner to protest against Whig government abuse and disrespect of Scottish legal and political autonomy. It began in the spring of 1736 when two habitual burglars were done for breaking and entering and robbing the Collector of Customs building in Kirkcaldy. A crime for which they were sentenced to Hang. While awaiting their execution both prisoners escaped custody. And their exploits brought support from the public who considered the sentence to be unjust. But authorities ignored their pleas and went ahead with the execution. The public execution in the Grassmarket was attended by a large crowd who were vocal in their protests and when the deed was done a few of them started to throw stones at the hangman and his helpers. This was not an unusual occurrence and usually passed without further incident. But on the occasion, there was an immediate and brutal response when city guard leader, Captain John Porteous fired into the crowd and ordered his men to do the same. When the shooting stopped there were eight dead and much more seriously wounded. The public protested vehemently and Porteous was charged with murder, tried, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging in the same Grassmarket where he and his men had committed the atrocities.

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The incident would have been closed had the execution been carried out, but Whig peers petitioned the Queen Regent Caroline to suspend the sentence so that appeals could be gathered and presented to the courts. She duly consented to their request and ordered the Scottish Lords of Justiciary to suspend the sentence for at least 6 weeks. Edinburgh citizens, sorely aggrieved that they were being denied justice took matters into their own hands, dragged Porteous from the Tollbooth and hanged him in the Grassmarket.

John Porteous, Captain of the City Guard of Edinburgh, over-reacted Stock  Photo - Alamy
THe Hanging of Porteous in the Grassmarket, EEdinburgh

News of the “riot” reached the Westminster government who immediately ordered General Wade and his English forces to Edinburgh to assist in the “speedy and exemplary punishment’ of the riots” “ringleaders and abetters”. A second large body of English soldiers was moved into Edinburgh castle to patrol the area and to conduct “stop and search” patrols and enforce curfews. The Westminster Whigs also took the view that the Edinburgh city authorities were at fault. Opinions that were strengthened in the weeks that followed when no-one had been brought to account. General Wade complained that: “the magistrates had conspired to allow the murder of Porteous and aided their escape from justice”. His unfounded assertions provided the catalyst the Whig government had been waiting for and it speedily introduced a new act, the “Bill of Pains and Penalties” and used it against Edinburgh, with the charge that the City authorities had “insulted the royal prerogative”. Edinburgh’s Lord Provost was arrested and many “Royal” privileges were removed adversely affecting traders and the city was placed in purgatory. Edinburgh citizens were angry at the actions of the government and questioned the legality of the English moves against the city. The question most raised was, “what right had been bestowed on Westminster that gave it the authority to punish Edinburgh for a crime involving Scottish citizens, that had taken place on Scottish soil? Scottish politicians set aside their petty partisan quarrels and protests were raised at Westminster strongly condemning the Whig government for its, “contradiction to the express Articles of Union”. But their protests fell upon deaf ears. Edinburgh was made to pay a heavy fine to the exchequer and every church minister in Scotland was forced to read out a proclamation apologizing for the behaviour of Edinburgh citizens.

malt tax | Lenathehyena's Blog
The Malt Tax

The Porteous affair was one of many incidents in which the Walpole government protected the military from its excesses through the imposition of “Martial Law” and acts of public violence against the people of Scotland. What was particularly galling was the unequal treatment of Scottish protestors when rioting in English cities had never been subject to military occupation and martial law. The Whig victory was pyrrhic since it confirmed what many Scots knew in their hearts that Scotland was not an equal partner in a Union of countries but a colony of England. The indignities inflicted by Walpole’s Whigs drove some Scots to seek the overturn the British and to invite the return of the Stuart’s to Scotland, but people in the Central belt and lowland parts of the country preferred to remain with the Union hoping for the removal of Walpole’s Whigs and a return to the ideals of the Acts of Union. Wishful thinking indeed!!!

Cartoon commenting on the abolishing of Malt Tax in 1880. William Ewart  Gladstone is depicted as a cat who killed the rat (the tax). William Ewart  Gladstone (1809-1898) a British statesman of