Sunday, 21 September 2014

Some thoughts on Alex Salmond's resignation

After being unsuccessful in his struggle to secure Scottish independence, First Minister Alex Salmond has opted to resign as First Minister.

He did not need to do so, but his reasons for resigning are perfectly understandable. He has taken the SNP, and its cause of Scottish nationalism, as far as he can. It is perfectly logical, at a time when the SNP is naturally considering its next steps, to make way for a new leader - with possibly a new way of thinking. Why continue to serve until the next election in 2016, when instead the new leader can be given a chance to bring their own style and vision to the top office in advance of that election?

That said, I am sorry to have seen him resign.

It is not that I like Alex Salmond particularly, although there are many politicians I like less. I find it difficult to tolerate his bombastic approach, his apparent egocentricity, and his obvious arrogance. But, on the other hand, he's somewhat easier to respect. He has been the first Scottish First Minister to be an improvement on his predecessor. There can be no questioning his adherence to his beliefs; neither can he be said to be uninterested in people. He also has charisma, a certain charm, determination, an ability to cultivate popular appeal beyond his party and - what all good politicians require - a sense of humour.

More importantly than all that, he's done more than any other to make Scottish independence a reality. He's also brought credibility to a party for so long on the fringes of Scottish politics. Since taking over the leadership in 1990, Salmond has facilitated the evolution of the SNP from a divided party of four MPs to the prominent force in Scottish politics. Under his leadership, his party smashed an electoral system cynically designed purposely to avoid an SNP majority, and hence the prospect of a referendum. And the outcome of that referendum was that over 1.6 million Scots - or 45% - believed that Scotland should be an independent country.

Far from having failed, this result should be read within the historical context of support for independence being consistently around the 30% mark. For all the limitations of Yes Scotland's strategy, the campaign was able to engage with people and reach out in a way that Better Together could not. Salmond, while not liked by all, was undoubtedly an asset and the way he performed in the second televised debate with Alistair Darling showed his best and his worst: his enormous strengths as a talented communicator were as apparent as his regrettable tendency to seek to diminish his opponents. There can be no denying that Alex Salmond has been an effective leader of the SNP and, in many respects, also an effective First Minister. Without the late intervention from Gordon Brown, and panicked promised of further powers from Westminster, we might also now be considering how he managed to persuade the Scottish voters to back his vision for independence. We are not, of course - but we cannot lose sight of how close this has been.

There have been others who have used Salmond's resignation as an opportunity for political one-upmanship. Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, in a statement that was unnecessarily graceless, stated that "he has exhausted his political purpose." I do not accept this either in fact or in sentiment, although obviously purpose inevitably adapts to changing circumstances. Alex Salmond remains as committed to independence as he ever has been and will surely continue to find a platform for promoting the nationalist dream.

Many will remember Alex Salmond as a man of intense principle and character, while others will see him as a deluded egomaniac interested only in securing his place in history. They are both wrong, of course: he was a genuine believer in the cause of independence and was more pragmatic than some would have us believe.

I will remember him as I believe he deserves to be: as the man who nearly delivered Scottish independence. I'm sure that's not how he'd necessarily have wanted history to remember him, but it's fair and taken into account his enormous achievement in transforming the SNP into a modern political party with a terrifyingly efficient campaigning unit. If the cause of Scottish independence is ever fulfilled, it will inevitably be due to some degree to the achievements of the outgoing First Minister. If his successor is able to achieve even a fraction of what Alex Salmond has, they will have done extraordinarily well.

I wish him well in his political career, which will surely not be coming to an end in the foreseeable future, and hope that he can continue to make the colourful contributions to Scottish politics that have so far characterised his 27 years as a parliamentarian.


Anonymous said...

As ever with your analyses, an even handed and fair view of the man.

It is customary at times like this for leaders of opposing parties to make kind and generous statements about their resigning opponents; being magnanimous in victory.

I respect Rennie for saying what he actually thinks as opposed to what would have been expected of him. Far too many people make the piecemeal speech that protocol demands, meaning not a word of it. Rennie has said what he thinks. Whether from courage of his convictions or churlishness, who knows, but at least it lacks the insincerity of some other comments.

I don't think that the struggle is over. The Noble Lord Ashcroft has apparently released a poll showing that 25% of those who voted no, did so on the basis of belief that the "vow" would bring real and situation-changing powers to Edinburgh. Without that intervention the situation may well have been different today.

I wish the British government luck in delivering, especially given Downing Street's comments about the powers being an extension of current responsibilities, and Miliband's assertion, in advance of his party conference, that there are more important things to worry about than Scottish devolution.

Maybe Miliband should be aware than in the last two days membership of the SNP has increased by more than 20% to over 30,000 and the Greens are reporting increases in their membership.

I wonder how the Scottish branch of Labour is doing membership wise.

Jenny Blain said...

Once again many thanks, Andrew.
I have, like the previous commenter, been looking at the Ashcroft poll, and that figure of 25% is particularly telling. I think that at least some people were 'taken in' by the renewed offer of more powers, and there is anger among some yes and, it seems to me, also some no supporters. And many people will feel that their earlier disillusionment with 'politics' in general was well-founded - unless we see something happening very swiftly.

Milliband's assertions today seem to be all over the place - wait for the English to sort themselves out, or not? And Cameron's return to the 'English issues' parliamentary vote question bodes ill for anything actually happening for a long while.

In the meantime, where are the Scottish Lib Dems? I've seen Rennie's statement on Salmond's standing down (which I think could certainly have been better worded) and some congratulatory things, but where are the statements about what they are planning to do?

In some sadness still,