Uncrowned King Alex Salmond-Napoleon remembers

There has been a strange alliance between Alex Salmond and Rupert Murdoch. Salmond the supreme egotist lets rip (about himself as much as Scotland) in his tragicomic, melodramatic account of the failed independence referendum campaign

Salmond the uncrowned king
Tom Gallagher
On 25 March 2015 12:15

Alex Salmond is a swashbuckling politician who has no shortage of defects, ones that in a previous age would have led to his eclipse long before he reached his present age, 60, after nearly a generation in front-rank politics.

His Scottish referendum memoir shows a distinct absence of self-awareness and personal insight. There is a tone of permanent self-congratulation, a desire to denigrate most of those who lack his particular vision of Scotland, above all in the media, and an undisguised  proprietorial attitude to the place  which emerges as a kind of personal fiefdom where this uncrowned king is on a permanent royal progress.

He remains an opportunistic and polarising figure, prone to making occasional colossal blunders. The recent one that stands out was when he insisted right  through 2014 that  Scotland could still be independent and have a currency union with its former partners who would still pick up the bill for any major Scottish financial losses.

The politician who hopes to  hold the balance of power in Westminster thanks to the impending triumph in Scotland of the SNP expects his mistakes to be overlooked and, with such a towering ego, betrays no sign of ever being troubled by them.

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch is an unabashed admirer of the man who relishes the chance to rock the British state to its foundations. He admires his human qualities -- chutzpah, tenacity, and presentational gifts of a high order -- more than his big state socialist philosophy in which bureaucrats micro-manage the lives of Scots with numerous restrictive laws.

Currently, they have the same enemies: David Cameron and his court who stood idly by as the metropolitan left sought to topple some of his newspapers and make illegal his intrusive and sensationalist brand of journalism.

He tweeted during the final stages of the referendum campaign on Scotland’s political future:

'Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in U.K. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots... Scots better people than to be dependants of London’.

News Corporation is putting its financial and marketing prowess behind Salmond by  publishing The Dream Shall Never Die, his melodramatic account of the 2014 referendum campaign.

Its proprietor was in Glasgow during the tumultuous final days of the campaign. At least through his tweets, he made common cause with  the demonstrators who, like him, hoped that Salmond  might ignite a national revolution which would sweep away a tired old order. It was a fascinating if ill-matched tryst.

Murdoch was making common cause with shouty, resentful Scots (more often than not  economically under-active middle-aged men). Each party has had enough of being patronised by a distant elite. They feel themselves victims of a conspiracy to do them down. Any problems are the fault of others.

The magnetism of Alex Salmond means that a combative Australian tycoon of Scottish lineage and less competitive Clydeside malcontents are reading off the same page.

They are admirers of a charismatic, street-fighting politician in an era of uninspiring and spineless ones. Both the international capitalist and the anti-capitalist Scottish workers and ex-workers admiringly observe how he has dragged Scotland from obscurity and made it a country whose battle to shape its own future periodically absorbs the rest of the world.

Scots used to be stoical and impassive, indeed not far removed from their stereotype on stage, screen and in popular fiction. They let go at certain social moments and points in the calendar.

And News Corporation’s brash media offerings did not seduce them overnight. It took several decades before the hedonistic, egotistical and emotion-ridden values which the downscale media popularised helped to alter popular culture, and indeed this was just reinforcing deeper social changes.

But finally a new generation of shrill and present-orientated Scots, desperate for change this very minute, but vague or uncaring about what impact it will have on future generations, have stepped out to increasingly define the nation.

The Machiavellian, shouty, and mock-Napoleonic figure of Alex Salmond is their avatar. He believes that goodwill and Scottish spirit will overcome any obstacles. It is doubtful if he was fazed to read just the day before the launch of his book that  instead of the oil industry, in 2016, generating £8.7 billion in taxes for Scotland, a key campaign plank, it will be less than £0.7 billion due to the collapse in oil prices.

It may well be that he regards the figures of the Office of Budget Responsibility as concocted. But in a country whose people used to be famed the world over for their economic literacy, it is doubtful if they will have much impact on people’s electoral choices.

Labour’s Douglas Alexander, battling to retain his seat against a 20-year old politics student, Mhairi Black, recalled a conversation with ‘an intelligent woman’ (a senior social worker) in a supermarket in his constituency. She told him that she did not believe the results of the independence referendum, and that she thought there had been a conspiracy.

She also thought the oil companies were involved in a global conspiracy to keep oil prices low, he said. “I said: ‘Do you mind if I ask where you get your news?’ And she said, ‘I get if off Facebook every night’."

New politicians like Ms Black or the comedian Tommy Sheppard, who is the SNP candidate in my part of  Edinburgh, are largely known only for their social media  apparitions, or gigs during the referendum campaign.

As Alexander ruefully observed, social media has created its own facts and become a laboratory for creating new politicians whose sole qualifications are an ability to express the emotional frustrations of large numbers of citizens.

Perhaps Rupert Murdoch relishes being the impresario who helps to make the Scottish revolution happen. But it is an essentially irrational affair which appears more likely to dissolve a country than to provide the basis for mature accomplishment.

Alex Salmond though, as this book shows,  is enjoying every moment of the roller coaster ride. He has ensnared numerous Scots who believe he will exact revenge for economic hardships in the dark ages of the 1980s when an implacable Margaret Thatcher ruled over them.

He has also made a daring and successful pitch to Murdoch that he will give  a mighty reckoning to the Westminster grandees of left and right who tried to run him and News Corporation out of town.

His book is fluent and jaunty. The last 100 days of campaigning sound like a Ruritarian royal progress from public rallies to the television studios to lunches and talks with academics, media folk and  business people. There is no index and perhaps there was no need for one.

Most of it is about Alex Salmond with his party colleagues hardly intruding. Of the 28 photos, 23 feature the author.

And why not? He is after all ‘Mr Scotland’. He dominates his country more than any European monarch or Prime Minister do theirs and it is not hard to see why the hardnosed Rupert Murdoch is prepared to smooth his rise.

But given the relentless dumbing down that has made the rise of the SNP possible, soon there may be plenty of Scots for whom the Sun and Sky Television are too exacting intellectual fare.

Tom Gallagher’s book Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction and Christian Crisis (Argyll Publishing) was published in 2013

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