[What follows is excerpted from an article by Scott Macnab headlined Is Alex Salmond now forever on the fringe? published in The Scotsman today:]
Barely a month after Alex Salmond had taken office as First Minister following the SNP’s historic election victory in May 2007, it became clear that Scottish politics had changed irrevocably. An emergency statement was called at Holyrood one Thursday afternoon on UK relations with Libya – and Holyrood went into meltdown. The newly rebranded Scottish Government (it had been the Executive before Salmond immediately ordered this changed) simply didn’t do this kind of thing.
The significance of the event hit home as I was filing speculative copy about the looming statement in my then office with a national news agency, when a senior Scotland Office figure called. “Do you know what he [Salmond] is doing?” he asked.
As it happened, he was about to lift the lid on the so-called “Deal in the Desert” which could have allowed the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi to be transferred to prison in Libya, in exchange for UK firms securing lucrative oil rights. The new Nationalist administration at Holyrood was laying down a marker that things were going to be different. Any quaint notions of cap-doffing to the UK government before going public with such incendiary statements were history.
A decade on, Salmond is preparing to kick off an Edinburgh festival run this weekend following his ignominious election defeat in June, which saw him turfed out of elected office for the first time in 30 years. And while enemies have enjoyed branding him little more than a glorified “cabaret act” these days, it’s worth reflecting on the impact Salmond has had on Scottish life over the past decade. (...)
Salmond’s seven years in office certainly saw Holyrood become the centre of political debate in Scotland. Even Labour acknowledged this as it brought about more autonomy from London to reflect this. More powers continued to be devolved through the Calman Commission then the Smith Commission. It meant the prospect of Holyrood replacing Westminster as Scotland’s Parliament seemed entirely plausible, as the independence debate raged. (...)
It remains to be seen if Salmond’s time as a festival turn indicates his political career is over or merely interrupted. But his influence on Scottish politics is hard to overstate. He transformed the prospect of independence from a nebulous idea on the fringes to a dynamic force at the heart of Scottish politics.