Euan McColm: Alex Salmond ungracious in defeat

THE language is statesmanlike and conciliatory, offering friendship to opponents and calling for unity. The speech former first minister Alex Salmond would have made had the Yes campaign won last year’s referendum on Scottish independence is full of fine words about ­respect.

THE language is statesmanlike and conciliatory, offering friendship to opponents and calling for unity. The speech former first minister Alex Salmond would have made had the Yes campaign won last year’s referendum on Scottish independence is full of fine words about ­respect.

Had Yes won, Salmond would have asked all Scots – regardless of how they had voted – to pause and reflect upon what he’d have described as the greatest day in Scotland’s history.

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Of course, the speech was never delivered. Thanks, however, to an unidentified rascal, we were able to read it in all its glory. For reasons unknown, someone decided that the address should be made public. Whoever that was, they can’t have imagined they were doing the former leader of the SNP any favours, can they?

If Salmond’s victory speech does anything, it throws into sharp focus how distinctly un-statesmanlike has been his behaviour since Scots rejected his proposal to break up the United Kingdom.

Had he been the victor, Salmond would have extended the hand of friendship to those he defeated, he would have spoken of his recognition that their views were strongly held; the joy of the majority would have been tempered by the disappointment of the minority.

The speech would have been appropriate to the circumstances. It might even have seemed plausibly to represent the former first minister’s views.

But Salmond’s good grace has an off switch and he flicked it the moment he and the Yes campaign lost.His respect for No voters was conditional on their defeat. In the Scotland that rejected independence, their views are not strongly held and worthy of respect. Instead, Salmond would have us believe that those who refused to line up behind him were fooled by the BBC, Treasury officials, the press and unionist politicians who united to deceive them.

To Salmond, No voters are not people of principle who considered the options before them and decided that – on reflection – they preferred the status quo, they are dupes, weak and easily manipulated.

For the past year, Salmond has appeared consumed by anger that he failed in his mission, and his anger blinds him to the possibility that he – and the quality of the offer he made – may have had something to do with the result. He continues to seem incapable of recognising that – whisper it – some Scots feel perfectly happy being British and see no reason even to contemplate constitutional change for the sake of it.

To Salmond, every Scot has an inner nationalist. If only all would recognise that, we’d be much happier. He certainly would.

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Marking the first anniversary of the referendum on Friday, Salmond’s successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, delivered a speech in which she said the SNP respected last year’s result (she cannot have been speaking for Salmond) and added that it would be wrong to propose another vote on the constitution without a fundamental change of circumstances or a strong indication that a significant number of those who had voted No last year had changed their minds. It would be wrong, however, for a second referendum to be ruled out.

There then followed some smashing words about the people deciding and what have you.

Sturgeon’s speech was bet-hedging stuff. She believes that, despite what her former boss might thunderously proclaim, if a second referendum was held this week, Scotland would vote No again.

Talk from Salmond about a substantial shift in opinion is not rooted in fact. A couple of recent polls may have suggested a slender majority for independence but if we look at opinion over a period of weeks we find it’s stuck where it was last year.

That is not to say that things cannot change. Majority support for independence is in sight. The First Minister must believe it tantalisingly close. So how does she achieve her dream? The first thing she should do is shut down Salmond.

Even those closest to the former first minister concede he is an especially divisive politician.

It may be heresy to those voters who believe he was robbed of his father-of-the-nation status, but it is not difficult to find senior SNP figures who believe Salmond played a substantial part in delivering defeat for the Yes campaign. Just as he inspires fanatical devotion in some, he provokes anger in others. For each person who would follow him wherever he led, there is another who wouldn’t trust him to run a bath.

Salmond, who didn’t get to play the great statesman last year, remains a problem for Sturgeon, who is a far more genuinely conciliatory politician.

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Here’s the thing: those who were going to be convinced by Salmond that Scottish independence was the answer have already been convinced. And polls suggest they are in no mood to change their minds.

Salmond is not likely to bring any more voters to the party. If anything, his continuing interventions are likely to confirm the suspicions of those who dislike his style.

Sturgeon and her deputy, John Swinney, make a formidable team. They are, of course, as committed to the cause of independence as Salmond is, but they see no advantage in lashing out at anyone who is not.

True believers, enthused by Salmond, give the SNP a substantial bedrock of support upon which to build but the former first minister’s work is done. It is Sturgeon, calmer, more reasonable – more normal – who might be able to persuade former No voters than independence needn’t be a catastrophe.

Salmond’s continued interventions can only make her task more difficult. With every step forward Sturgeon takes, she risks tripping over a carelessly dropped Salmond outburst.

There’s a theory that Sturgeon and Salmond have a good cop-bad cop schtick, that they are carefully co-ordinating their approaches.

That makes no sense. Alex Salmond does nothing but preach to the choir.

And his sermons can only continue to make it that bit harder for Nicola Sturgeon to make new converts. «