Salmond, not Hawking, expanded our universe
I stopped admiring Scotland’s Labour party when I saw how they kissed each other on the cheeks but took a body swerve to avoid poor in the street, and refused to live among their voters. For their Tammany Hall attitude to power, I was repulsed.
I looked for better and saw the SNP was not as accused, a Tory party in Highland dress, but a semi-socialist party able to balance that doctrine with a dash of benign capitalism. Moreover, it was the only party to devote itself to the well-being of Scotland and the dispersal of power to people.
It didn’t take on the mantle of certitude until led by Alex Salmond. I had the good fortune to talk to Salmond once but in his case for ten minutes of a private chat. Wits about you, not over-awed by the moment, you can glean a lot about somebody in ten minutes.
I should add, I was not unfamiliar with the party. Years earlier, though not a member, I had been invited by Mike Russell to shoot their party political broadcast. (PPB.) It was well received and I was given two more to devise and direct before I left Scotland to work for a crust in the City of Angels movie industry. I aimed for a higher standard of PPB than hitherto, as innovative as possible. I achieved it using a widescreen movie format and Sean Connery in voice-over narration.
Westminster loathes Scottish politics
One day the opportunity arose to meet Salmond. He was on the move, bustling in and out of places in his chauffeured limousine canvassing. I like him for calling Holyrood a ‘parliament’ not as Westminster had condescendingly defined it by diminutive sobriquet, an ‘executive.’ He gave Scotland dignity again. Salmond was in full spate kicking over generations of the Scottish ‘cringe,’ the inculcated feeling we ‘ar’nae worthy’.
Before we had a chance to talk he caught me unawares. “I can see you’re a man who won’t take no for an answer,” he said, a remark delivered pronouncing with as ‘wif’, his thick tongue failing fricatives. “We will succeed wif integrity, notwifstanding the rightness of our cause”. (Missing is the slide of air between the tip of the tongue and upper front teeth.) I laid my degree in Phonetics aside. This was not the moment to offer speech therapy. I also noted his girth, far too spherical for a man of his modest height.
I was surprised he took time to talk. Sadly, my offer to help win our independence by ways other than sticking fliers in letterboxes met with no real response. Disappointed I couldn’t offer a constructive contribution, I resigned myself to publishing essays on Scotland of old and of our dreams, arguing ideas with confederates and opponents.
A mission to democratise
The main quality I got from meeting Salmond was a boundless energy, a dynamic person with a plan no one could divert, just not a man I’d feel relaxed in his company. You could smell the killer instinct in him. Boy, did he know his political history, especially that of his foes. On losing the independence referendum, television journalist, Andrew Neil, impressed, said, “What would Salmond have sounded like if he’d actually won?!”
He lifted our awareness of ourselves as a nation. He placed a searchlight on Unionist claims of Scotland as freeloader, and our own misplaced belief we are mendicants. He took us to the brink of full democracy by the people for the people and the possibility of freeing our country from the grip of brutal neo-conservative ideology and colonialism.
The flaws in a man
If I have any criticism of Salmond it’s a preponderance to be cocky, a quality not liked by women voters in any man, or by men who find themselves at the end of a tongue lashing. That smirk of a smile that goes with knowing he’s beaten his rival verbally, doesn’t help.
I wonder how he stands up to the immense pressures of his office and his quest for Scotland’s autonomy. He likes to play golf. He is known to drink when among friends. Drink is the enemy of self-control. In an essay I penned on his tormentors I stated there are powerful men I have met who know they have an obsession and cannot control it. Alex Salmond is not one of them. He is under the spotlight every day.
To my mind, a worse faux pas is glad-handing Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has altered the western world to his likeness, a ruthless megalomaniac whose newspapers and media empire lie to readers and viewers as a matter of policy, shifting popular sentiment to the right. Murdoch’s empire swallowed up Collins, Scotland’s best, most successful book publisher. The first thing Murdoch did on acquiring Collins was to cancel publication of a biography critical of him. Salmond hoped to secure Scotland’s preferment from his newspapers and it did result in brief political neutrality by the Scottish Sun. The quid pro quo implied approval to locate Murdoch’s UK headquarters in Scotland.
Still, you negotiate with your enemies, not with your friends.
Thanks for the memories
Salmond taught us empowerment can be achieved for the masses even in these times of immense, unaccountable power and wealth held in fewer and fewer hands, given to crooked banks, big business, politicians in hock to corporations, a press and media unable to throw off the straight-jacket of nineteenth century ‘Britishness.’
Alex Salmond gave Scotland a renewed faith in itself, a wonderful confidence, and the chance of shaping our own destiny free of the taint of corrupt capitalism. By careful and verifiable argument he demonstrated the Union is a fraud.
He gave us a plebiscite denied by other politicians for over 300 years. He taught us to rid ourselves of irrational fear. But there is a sacrifice, a cost to pay. He made himself a marked man. The British state is always vindictive. They will find a way.
Together with 56 of SNP colleagues, Salmond was elected to the Westminster parliament, becoming spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, in a landslide victory at the General Election. He later lost his seat in a swing to the Right among voters in Aberdeenshire.
In March 2020, Alex Salmond was accused of multiple sexual assaults, the case held in Edinburgh’s High Court. He was found Not Guilty on all counts.