Alas, man-flu sufferers in the City of Perth! Last weekend, if you desperately needed to wipe your nose but your hanky was in the wash, your only options were shirt sleeves, scrunched-up chunks of toilet roll or the nearest small dog. There wasn’t a single box of tissues left on any shelf within five miles of Perth Concert Hall, as the SNP conference collectively welled up to mark Alex Salmond’s transition from inspirational leader to freelance troublemaker.
The reverberations of this momentous event spread far and wide. Deep in the bowels of New Broadcasting House a chill wind rattled the bars of Kirsty Wark’s cage and garlanded Nick Robinson’s peely-wally heart with icicles. In a fashionably postcoded Edinburgh attic Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph’s Scottish Editor, muttered darkly as he began the task of converting his 57,263 Salmond voodoo dolls into mini-Sturgeons, complete with wee tartan shoes. And, with his Inverness constituency programmed into the Sat-Nav of Salmond’s 2015 electoral bandwagon, Danny Alexander glanced nervously at his CV, wondering how the career highlight “wretched lickspittle of Osborne and his nest of vipers” might fare in the local job market.
To those of us who woke on 19 September to a breakfast of sawdust and ashes, the transformation of the last two months is surely a modern-day miracle. Salmond hasn’t simply treated defeat as an impostor; he’s shoved a custard pie in its face, pulled its trousers down and invited us all to laugh at its microscopic willy.
His legacy? A humungous upsurge in political engagement in Scotland, in clear contravention of our masters’ advice that it’s dangerous and best left to the experts. Meeting organisers previously unsure if they’d draw a crowd big enough to justify buying a packet of Hob-Nobs are now wondering how many folk they can cram in without Health and Safety getting antsy. All the pro-indy parties are bursting at the seams, and the SNP conference was so over-subscribed that they’ve had to organise a 12,000-seat reprise at the Hydro. I bet the Nawbag Chorus, with its constant refrain “Back in your box, Yessers”, wasn’t expecting us to need a box that large!
It’s also principally thanks to Alex Salmond that independence, previously unmentionable at parties unless you wanted to end up talking to the hatstand, is now part of mainstream political discourse. The other 200 or so countries on Planet Earth may not fully appreciate this achievement, since they’ve never had a problem taking themselves seriously. But, for a nation whose government from 1999 to 2007 couldn’t even be bothered to call itself a government, it’s a massive uplift in self-confidence. And, even better, it totally gets on Alistair Carmichael’s tits.
In these first nano-seconds of the early days of a better nation, we’re finally shrugging off the Scottish cringe that’s intruded on our political thinking like a Dalek gatecrashing a poetry festival. For broadcasters in London complacently pre-scripting the democratic process, or pyromaniacs in East Sussex metaphorically engulfing it in flames, this is a huge culture shock. Is there a danger, as even some rock-solid Yes commentators have warned, of us occasionally wandering too far along the assertiveness/chippiness spectrum? Perhaps, but that’s an unavoidable part of discovering a voice. And, frankly, zero tolerance for business-as-usual bullshit is exactly what we need right now.
So, for the avoidance of doubt, we’ll not stand for INEOS fracking seven shades of shale out of our back gardens while we strain our drinking water through a pair of tights. To hell with West Central Scotland being put at risk of vaporisation just to ensure UK ministers’ bum-cheeks grace a UN Security Council seat. And a wee message for the First Sea Lord: stick to being a Gilbert and Sullivan character and stop bumping yer gums about handing shipyard jobs to France.
Our self-belief would never have flowered in this exciting, potentially earth-shattering fashion were it not for Alex Salmond. If, back in 2007, he’d been run over by a bus driver under the hypnotic
control of Margaret Curran, the face of present-day Scotland would be very, very different.
The Labour ‘B’ team would still be in office at Holyrood, ineffectually managing decline with mournful expressions and a #supinesocialism hashtag, while the country’s brightest young talents headed off to London in search of jobs to pay off their £27,000 student debt. Glasgow would have abandoned its 2014 Commonwealth Games bid on the grounds that it was awfy expensive and we’d just muck it up anyway. Meanwhile, crowds would be spontaneously gathering at Pacific Quay to congratulate BBC Scotland on its BAFTA-winning documentary series God, What A Depressing Place, And It’s All We Deserve.
Of course, for the cadaverous UK establishment whose lifeblood is the status quo, this represents a dream scenario that Salmond has irritatingly thwarted. That’s why, bereft of arguments but making full use of the media’s relentless megaphone, they launch ad hominem attacks, vilifying him for being divisive, egocentric, selfish and bullying and writing off the thrilling campaign that set 1.6 million aflame as “Alex Salmond’s Vanity Project”.
Divisive? Well, I was busy cheering for Judy Murray on Strictly, so I must have missed the riots. But I’ll suspend judgment until I get through Christmas dinner without my family using the carving equipment to hack out my black separatist heart and impale it on a broom handle.
Egocentric? You mean they’ve invented a politician who isn’t? Anyway, since I'm convinced that I inhabit the centre of my own personal universe, and that my farts have the sweetest aroma of any I’ve encountered, I’d be a hypocrite to blame Salmond for that.
Selfish? It’ll be fun watching the nay-sayers try to push that one after he donated his First Minister’s pension to charity. Ah, but isn’t absolute altruism impossible? He probably just did it for the warm glow of satisfaction. Now, if he’d done proper ex-leader stuff, such as racking up a tidy property portfolio, masquerading as Middle East Peace Envoy and inexplicably avoiding arrest for war crimes, everyone could surely respect that.
Bullying? I certainly wouldn’t want to be a butterfingers intern on his payroll, because I daresay a full-on tirade from him would shred several layers of skin. Still, his staff appear to be pretty loyal to him, which suggests that either his cuddly moments outweigh his fearsome ones or he’s a whiz at selecting masochists.
The truth is that Salmond could discover the cure for all known diseases and still be lambasted for hogging all the glory and creating a pensions bombshell. To the Labour Party in particular, he’s a usurper who robbed them of the Scottish people’s votes against rhyme, reason and the clear instructions of the Eleventh Commandment. Obviously the electorate let Labour down too, but, as they have the excuse of being bamboozled by Salmond’s roguish charm, they’ll be forgiven as long as they behave themselves in future.
Me? I don’t know Alex Salmond personally, although, as his unauthorised biographer David Torrance has demonstrated, that’s no barrier to pontificating emptily about him. If pressed, I’d say he seems to have some interesting flaws, in common with roughly 7 billion human beings, and some phenomenal good points, in common with a great deal fewer. And, even if I’d never seen him in my life, one look at most of his enemies would suggest to me he’s one of the good guys.
He’s given 1.6 million of us the roller-coaster ride of our lives, something no-one else could have done without actually possessing super-powers. He steps out of the spotlight (not off stage; please get something right, BBC) with a frighteningly impressive successor in place and a truckload of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Best of all, he’s free of the restraints of office, with no obligation to hold back any more, and there are several targets out there who could really do with a barrage of withering scorn. Significantly, at the end of Salmond’s calculatedly gracious Bonfire Night response to the burghers, or however it’s spelt, of Lewes, he observed, “If they think I’m a threat to the Westminster establishment like Guy Fawkes, they’re right.”
See you soon, Alex.