Perhaps one of the most unedifying aspects of NoScotland is the sulphurous contempt for Alex Salmond oozing out of every widening crack in the artifice of union. Far too many seem utterly incapable of moving beyond this. The pitch has risen in tandem with Salmond’s ascendency, oblivious to events, all too clearly betraying the raw party tribalism behind it.
This has been so assiduously cultivated that Salmondophobia now has its own language. It’s not a particularly articulate one and is as attractive as it is complex - that is to say, not in the slightest - but its monotone minimalism warrants acknowledgement. It takes effort to sustain such visceral hatred for so long without drawing breath. Johann Lamont has elevated this to an obsessive compulsion and clearly spends a lot of time in front of a mirror working on her eye-rolling technique. Countless interns on a shift system ensure the bile stall is manned 24/7.
Without even blushing, diehard Red Clydesiders amongst the mortal remains of Scottish Labour would sooner swing with their natural enemies than agree with Salmond on the time of day. On current form, if he offered his resignation tomorrow, Labour would probably demand he stay.
This thumb-sucking obstructionism has blighted debate in Holyrood since 2007 and has given Salmond a far easier run than he could possibly have hoped for, or even necessarily deserves. The SNP has governed efficiently, but it hasn’t been a perfect ten. Their renewables policies in particular alarm many and should in theory have at least put a dent in the ballot box, particularly in rural areas, but this famously failed to happen.
Nothing entirely accounted for May 2011, not in authorised narrative that is. Being despised by his enemies certainly didn’t harm Eck’s chances. For 4 years, he knocked all comers into a cocked hat. The electorate rewarded him with that impossible majority. Labour couldn’t believe it. Salmond couldn’t believe his luck.
The embarrassing punch-line, for Labour in particular, one myriad analyses seem to have strenuously side-stepped, is that this year’s referendum could have easily been avoided if they had acceded to SNP plans for a referendum in the last parliament. As it had no bearing on day to day governance, it wouldn’t have hurt and they could only have gained. Not only could they have influenced the terms, with further, more entrenched devolution of their choosing as an option on the ballot, they could have guaranteed an emphatic No vote on independence. This would have been the end of Salmond and very probably the SNP as we know it and they would be sleeping easy tonight. Instead it was “Ya boo sucks” followed by absurd gibes that Salmond couldn’t get his legislative program through. Duh, as they say. Such political ineptitude thoroughly deserves a long spell in opposition.
One would think they might have learned from this, but evidence is scant. Instead, Salmond has watched his opposition self-cannibalise in full public view. He is often accused of being smug, but who on earth wouldn’t be in the circumstances?
Granted, Salmond may not be up against stellar competition, but it would be a foolish opponent, Johann Lamont for instance, who said he was anything other than very good at what he does. This includes being Alex Salmond, of course, but an apparently impossible 45% of voters in a 4 party race didn’t appear too worried by this.
This is attritional spite, not political expression. It makes no sense to any reasoned perspective. Many of the same people would no doubt express a deep dislike of Rupert Murdoch, but they’ll buy his papers and satellite package with all this implies. And of course, as a hysterical fear of Scotland becoming an isolationist one party state and a Salmond personality cult seems to terrify so many Unionists, it seems odd that they so readily accept mandatory subscription to a state broadcaster. Given the revelations of the last year or two, one would have thought default respect for this organisation might have taken a dunt, but it persists undaunted. One may well think Salmond smug, but so what? If unaccountable influence and executive excess disturb your sleep, consider the BBC and then worry about Alex Salmond if you must.
In any case, he could be forgiven for being smug. Not only was his career supposedly over in 2000, “Nationalism was dead”, its obituary having been so succinctly penned by George, later Lord Robertson. As Secretary General of NATO, his triumphs included being in the van of the Afghanistan expedition. His Lordship’s prescience knows no beginning.
Ten years ago, Salmond was a busted flush. It is hard to think of a less likely political comeback. Party leaders who quit don’t return. It’s simply not British. Most quit politics entirely. Stranger things have happened, but little matches the rise, fall and rise of Eck the Invincible. I use the word advisedly, but there can be little dispute that in all his time as First Minister, the opposition haven’t touched him with anything so robust as a soufflé; in the arenas of both Scottish and UK politics he’s a class act and holds pole position by some margin. His enemies have undoubtedly helped him attain this, so they shouldn’t be surprised if he avails himself of open goals, but Salmond knows very well that in this game, it’s not just the taking part that counts, it’s winning.
Even his foes must sometimes wonder what it must take to stop the man. Frankly, I don’t believe even a No vote would finish him off. The only way of getting rid of the fiend might well be to simply vote for independence and ditch the SNP in 2016. If the SNP sticks to its founding principles, it should sustain for no more than one parliament anyway. For those who wish to see the back of Salmond, a Yes vote could well be the better bet.