20 Sep 2014

The going of Alex Salmond

We might have been sitting in an undertaker’s waiting room. Something was afoot. You could have cut the air with a knife.

In fact we were waiting for the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to enter to give his first news conference since the defeat of the yes campaign in the Scottish referendum.

In low tones I found myself musing with my journalist neighbours as to what was going to happen. We all dismissed any idea of resignation. Indeed we each rewound what he had said to us earlier in the week.

“Win or lose, I shall see out my term as first minister”.

Four o’clock chimed and Mr Salmond strode into the Regency drawing room on the ground floor of his official residence at Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Then the bombshell, “I am resigning as first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party”.

Not since Lord Carrington resigned as foreign secretary over the Falklands war had a leading British politician resigned as a matter of honour. There was no pressure upon him to do so.

What a contrast with the light-headed scenes last Tuesday, outside the house in which he had been born in Linlithgow 59 years ago.


For an hour we had chatted with his erstwhile neighbours and a few of those who had gone to school with him (see video, below). His father lived in the self-same house until last year.

Salmond seemed in that moment rooted, secure, confident, and to be genuinely enjoying the fray. We all laughed a lot and reminisced about milestones in his leadership which some of us had been present for.

In interview in a neighbour’s council house across the green upon which he had played football as a boy, Salmond was in the best form I’ve ever known him. I remember our parting after the interview.

“I’ll give you the first interview after the result” he declared to me. In that moment he convinced me at least that he was going to win, and I could not bring myself to disagree. In that hour it seemed seriously possible.

Over the years I came to know and like Alex Salmond – breakfasted with him occasionally when he was in London. He struck me as structured, committed and deeply serious about attaining independence for Scotland.

He was by far the most charismatic and colourful of the UK’s main party leaders.

The dignity of his going describes the man. History will mark what he achieved in Scotland. Within that achievement was that of enabling a people to become politically engaged, on whatever side, to indulge in sophisticated argument, discourse, and commitment within the independence debate.

Of course there was the rough stuff amongst some of the more exuberant advocates of his cause, but where there’s politics there’s passion, and extreme commitment.

In the main it was good-natured and unlike anything I have ever witnessed in any other political contest. That is in part because Salmond himself mixed humour with unwavering commitment.

We shall miss Alex Salmond. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we have not see the last of him.

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