“For the first time, Alex Salmond has been made to look ridiculous”

Alex Salmond has had his worst week in years. The SNP annual conference revealed a split over continuing membership of Nato. Then he was exposed  for, shall we say, stretching a point to its limits by claiming he had legal approval for insisting that an independent Scotland would smoothly inherit EU membership from the former UK. Small wonder that David Cameron, no mean  connoisseur of omnishambles himself, crowed at PMQs yesterday. Iain McWhirter in the Herald, explains why Salmond’s  spinning was bound to fail.  The scene of his pratfall was an interview with fellow Scot Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Daily Politics.

The First Minister said he had legal advice from the Government’s law officers on the question of whether or not Scotland would be granted immediate EU membership after independence. When asked by Mr Neil to produce this, he said he could not disclose the legal advice because, under the ministerial code, governments do not publish advice to ministers. But this week, in Holyrood, the Deputy First Minister revealed there was no such formal legal advice.

Mr Salmond insists what he was referring to in the Neil interview was legal advice “in general terms” that was already available in Government documents. And maybe that was what he meant. But why then did he say it couldn’t be published? And why did the Government spend a large sum of public money taking the Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, to court to prevent the disclosure of a blank sheet of paper?

Added to this embarassment, the Scotsman reports a poll suggesting that  Scots are quite happy with a single yes, no question in the referendum . Are these  reverses signs that the independence case is starting to crack up? I doubt it. They’ve plenty of time to get their political story straighter before an October 2014 referendum. The real imponderable will be the state of the economy and Scottish spending. Will Scots agree with Salmond that tougher times are all the fault of the English government or will they feeler safer and better together with the rest of the UK? In the Guardian Martin Kettle wisely insists that the pro-Union cause need to get their story straight too. And that will be harder to achieve for rival parties than it is for the SNP.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • BarneyT

    I think the notion of being separated from England gives independence some legs for many…but sitting outside the European Union might be a different matter.

  • grandimarkey

    “Added to this embarassment, the Scotsman reports a poll suggesting that Scots are quite happy with a single yes, no question in the referendum .”

    The SNP have always advocated for a single question referendum. Why would this be an embarrassment? Sure, the SNP suggested that there may be a desire for more then one question from the public but that was kind of the point of the consultation, no?

  • grandimarkey

    Some balance perhaps?

    Also, why can i not rid myself of these italics?

  • Alone and Easy Target

    Salmond has a lot of charisma and can certainly appeal on a personal level to a wide range of people. If his personal appeal nose-dives I think the SNP will be toxic. Whether this happens pre or post referendum who knows, but I don’t see anyone capable of replacing Salmond.

  • andrew.kirke

    Agree with the OP; Salmon’s personal appeal is what has made the SNP what it is today. The years between 2000 and 2004 the SNP were the wilderness years for the party.

  • Brian Walker

    grandimarkey, No the SNP were keen on a devo more/max second question without taking responsibilty for formally demanding it.

  • IJP

    Agree with everything in the piece until the end. I disagree entirely with Mr Kettle – people have a pretty clear idea what kind of UK it will be, but are very vague about what “independence” means.

    I’m not sure the “Better Together” campaign really does have to sort its story out. The story is fairly straightforward – a devolved Scotland in the UK; the status quo, in other words.

    In any referendum such as this, it is the “change” side which has to explain itself. What precisely does “independence” mean? How do you reconcile not having nuclear weapons in Scotland if you’re an alliance which fires them from England anyway? When exactly did the SNP change its policy away from the Socialist Republicanism Mr Salmond used to espouse so prominently? How specifically will Scotland control its monetary policy if it is using the same currency as England, printed by the Bank of England, managed in England? If we’re keeping the Queen, the pound, the EU and the nuclear option, what actually is the point of “independence” anyway?

    The problem is, the more specifics they give, the less desirable their case will appear (viz the Australian Republic referendum – http://ianjamesparsley.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/the-more-issues-the-snp-defines-the-more-ground-it-loses/)

  • “Alex Salmond has had his worst week in years.”

    The Trump film can be added to his woes along with the closure of coastguard control centres:

    We remain angrily bewildered by a government aiming to take Scotland into independence which has nevertheless sat on its hands while the UK government demolishes the infrastructure of Scotland’s coastguard service, replacing it with a call centre in Hampshire.

    Forth has already been closed, Clyde is due to go by the end of the year and the Hampshire centre is not due to be operational until 2014.

  • DoppiaVu


    I agree that in some ways Salmond would have been served better by a earlier referendum.

    The SNP faces the difficulty of going from being a single-issue grouping (largely) to becoming a party with a fully-fledged policy platform, covering everything from economics to welfare to health to defence. The fact that he has already lost 2 party members by pinning his colours to one particular mast (i.e. NATO) makes you wonder how many more people he will lose as he is forced to commit on various other issues.

    As you say, Salmond is clever enough to attach himself to policies that capture the zeitgeist. But things change, and the more he attaches himself to policies that resonate today, the more he leaves himself open to events (dear boy, events). “Arc of Prosperity”, anyone?

    For Better Together to work, they just need to keep asking him to flesh out his policy platform, then tie him in knots when he contradicts himself.

  • Framer

    Losing two Highland headbanger MSPs over NATO and nuclear weapons could be a blessing in disguise just as an independent Scotland being obliged to (re)-apply to join the EU and then deciding not to.

  • Dewi

    He might have had a bad week but better now than in 2014…

  • JPJ2

    “Added to this embarassment, the Scotsman reports a poll suggesting that Scots are quite happy with a single yes, no question in the referendum .”

    I regard this as a complete mis-analysis. Cameron conceded all the other points that Salmond raised in order to get a one question referendum.

    Surely, now that we know the result of the Scottish Government consultation was about 2:1 for one question, the SNP would have been unable to hold the door open for a second question, meaning Cameron would have got his one question with fewer concessions 🙂

  • IrelandNorth

    During HM EIIR’s 2011 state visit to the greater part of Ireland, reference was made to “… a partnership of equals …” between Great Britain and Ireland (in the Queen’s speech after the state banquet at Dublin Castle). If England’s currently constituted UK paramour succeeds in filing for constitutional divorce in 2014, would a strategic alliance between them not be as possible as one between the British and Irish Isles. Rather than perpetuating an imperial unionism which is in nobody’s interersts, a provincially federated Island of Ireland in a strategic alliance with a confederated Island of Great Britain within the Commonwealth of Nations presents a stupendous opportunity for counterbalancing the towering babel of the European Unionism and global convergence.

  • david thistle

    Not been Ecks finest week, but he is light years ahead of his pygmy opponents who in their desperation will seize on ANYTHING to try and claw back some support, hoping that some mud will stick. Disagree with some comments above, imho Nicola Sturgeon is by far the best performer in the Parliament , witness her public evisceration of Johann Lamont several weeks ago.

  • Red Lion

    will ‘eck’ have the balls to go and face his constituents on the menie estate in aberdeenshire??

    I hope that Donald Trump film and the appalling treatment of Scotlands citizens, not to mention the environment, gets wheeled out at strategic moments over the next couple of years. Disgrace.

  • For Argyll has expanded on the Coastguard contraction:

    An independent Scotland would inherit a lack of personnel, a lost skills base with all of the vital local knowledge and control of the majority of its west coast already in the hands of what would be another country.

    Yet the SNP government has effectively slept on watch for want to serious opposition to this proposal. It has done some gestural politicking but has made no real movement to preserve efficient and knowledgeable coastal protection for the benefit of a country it intends to try to take to independence.

  • southernrhodesia

    “…to the greater part of Ireland” – Nope. Ireland. Full stop.
    There is an Ireland and a Northern Ireland…similar to the way there is a Sudan and a South Sudan, a Samoa and an American Samoa, a Mongolia and an Inner Mongolia, a Luxembourg and a Luxembourg, several variants of Guinea etc.