Stirring, Salmond still manages to shake up his critics

Salmond: angry response to Robinson's "Putinesque" comment

Analysis by Thomas Connolly

Whatever your opinion of Alex Salmond – and there are few people with no opinion – his every move continues to fascinate supporters and critics alike.

The former First Minister confirmed the worst-kept secret in Scottish politics earlier today when he told supporters at a SNP rally in Ellon that he intends to stand as the SNP candidate for the Westminster seat of Gordon in the UK General Election next May.

Many Salmond-watchers predicted the move almost as soon as he announced his intention to resign as First Minister on the morning that the referendum result was known on September 19.

Even so, the news seems to have been treated like a bolt from the blue in certain quarters as they trot out the predictable reactions.

Salmond has – as usual – made several deft moves since that resignation. Firstly by ensuring a simple transition of power to Nicola Sturgeon as she assumed first the leadership of the SNP and thereafter the position of First Minister, almost by acclaim.

Salmond and White Paper. Gordon bid is theatre too.
Salmond and White Paper. Gordon bid is theatre too.

The September 19 “reveal” was a classic piece of political theatre from Salmond, and a move which seems to have out-manoevred opponents and political commentators alike.

Firstly, he removed himself from the political firing line, making sure that any hostile fire was immediately diverted towards Labour – one of the parties who “won” the vote, thanks perhaps to that infamous “Vow”.

Secondly, by indicating that he wants to return to Westminster, but not as SNP group leader if he does win Gordon, he ensures that Sturgeon can rely on a strong, experienced and canny ally who intends to remain “loyal” to the leadership back in Edinburgh.
Thirdly, he fulfils another stage in a lifelong personal fascination with politics and political “events”. The UK faces political upheaval next May, whatever the result. What do the polls tell us? Everything and nothing. On the one hand it seems Miliband’s Labour cannot win a majority, and on the other it looks like Cameron’s Tories cannot do so either.

Will UKIP achieve the support indicated by opinion polls, illustrated by those two recent by-election victories in England? Will the Liberal Democrats cease to exist?

Alternatively, might any of the above – and particularly Labour – have to rely on the support of the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the DUP or – horror of horrors – the SNP to achieve anything at Westminster? If the opinion polls are remotely true several well-upholstered Scottish Labour MPs are going to lose their seats next May, and they will lose them to the SNP.

The news about Salmond was greeted with bafflement in some quarters of the metropolitan chattering classes. On BBC News, the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley expressed his horror at the prospect of Salmond Redux. “He’s waging a vendetta against my country,” whimpered Stanley, whose misunderstanding of what is actually going on in Scotland was illustrated well in the studio.

Christine Jardine, his Liberal Democrat opponent in Gordon – which is being vacated by the long-serving MP Bruce Malcolm – says she’ll welcome the fight. “The people of Gordon deserve an MP who will stand up for what’s important to them, not chase their personal political agenda,” she added.

Oh how we laughed. The "liberal" New Statesman compared Salmond to Kim Jong Un after comments by Alistair Darling.
Oh how we laughed. The “liberal” New Statesman compared Salmond to Kim Jong Un after comments by Alistair Darling.

Jardine, a former journalist and special adviser to Deputy PM Nick Clegg, may feel lucky to get second place given the ratings of her discredited party in successive polls. But she and the other candidates will content themselves by insisting that Salmond’s declaration is some kind of ego trip.

His opponents ran a vindictive and highly personalised campaign against Salmond during the referendum campaign. It has been difficult to read a Labour Party press statement since 2007 that does not attribute every Scottish Government act to “Salmond”.

Usually, their spite has back-fired. Surprisingly to many of his supporters, the only man who appears unperturbed by the personal nature of the attacks has been Salmond himself.

Alex Salmond turns 60 on Hogmanay. He will be relishing the opportunity of one more Parliament in Westminster, assuming that he has his arithmetic right in the battle for Gordon, part of which is within his existing Holyrood constituency.

If elected, he could witness history on the banks of the Thames. He may even get to play a part in making that history.