What does Alex Salmond think he’s playing at?


When he saw the writing on the wall and was desperate to get people to vote Yes, Alex Salmond made a last ditch appeal on the Andrew Marr Show the Sunday before the independence referendum. He said that people had a once in a generation or even a lifetime chance to vote for independence and they should take it.

Now, it was fairly clear to me and I expect most other people that he absolutely didn’t mean what he was saying. There was no way that the entire nationalist movement was just going to give up and take up crochet if they lost. Of course they were not. They sincerely believe that independence is the best option for Scotland in the same way that I believe that a liberal approach to our problems is the best way to run a society. I’ll never give up my quest to see a truly liberal world.

It therefore comes as no surprise to see that he’s already working on “Indyref 2” as outlined in a recent interview with Aberdeen’s Evening Express:

Mr Salmond said: “A taxi driver said to me that he had voted No to independence but he would do it differently next time. I think we would win if there was another referendum.”

He added: “Luckily in life, as in politics, people sometimes get a second chance.”

The SNP seem to be executing a carefully co-ordinated plan to make a second referendum more likely. Their only chance is winning an overall majority at Holyrood in 2016. It’s therefore in their interests to paint the Smith Commission they signed up to in a bad light and for any coalition negotiations at Westminster involving them to fail – in such a way that they can blame those nasty unionists, of course.  That, they think, will give them an advantage in the Holyrood elections.

Why else would they choose as their deal breaker the one thing that is most difficult to deliver? It looks like they want to walk way. I want rid of nuclear weapons as much as they do. I really don’t think we should have weapons of mass destruction. My own party doesn’t agree with me on that, and neither do Labour or the Conservatives. Labour might surprise us post-election and decide to unilaterally disarm, but I’d not even bet the Murray Mint in the bottom of my handbag that that would happen. Why pick that issue, though, rather than one that could directly improve people’s lives in Scotland right here right now. If we devolved benefits sanctions and conditions, we could do it so much better.  There should be a lot of common ground between Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats on things like tackling poverty, social justice and fairness. There is huge potential for what we could achieve together using the powers we already have.  The challenge for all concerned is to behave like grown-ups and do that. By choosing a red line issue that’s not that high on people’s priorities, the SNP runs the risk of looking opportunistic and provocative.

But back to Mr Salmond. He was never going to fade away into backbench obscurity. It’s just not his way. I was particularly amused by his comments about David Cameron and the Queen for two reasons. Firstly, he slated Cameron for repeating a conversation with Her Maj – and then did exactly the same thing about his conversation with her. Then, he slated Cameron for trying to impress billionaires. This is the same guy who expressed admiration for both Vladimir Putin and Rupert Murdoch. Chutzpah, much.

He’s also tried to position himself as some kind of wise elder statesman figure for the English, telling them they need a referendum to sort out their constitutional issues.

None of this, of course, is of any earthly use to the people of Gordon who seem little more than a vehicle for his ambition. If he talks about national issues, even to local papers, he gets the profile without the requirement for balance and talking to the other candidates.  It’s all really pretty clever. His victory in Gordon is far from assured, though, despite Nicola Sturgeon’s entirely coincidental visit to the north east the day before announcing that she’s going to splash the cash up there. They’ve only been in government for seven years…

I asked Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat who’s seeking to continue Malcolm Bruce’s 32 year record of action for Gordon, what she made of Salmond’s tactics. She told me:

Alex Salmond has pursued independence for his entire political career and it’s becoming clearer by the day that is his only motivation in standing for Gordon.

The issues that matter to the people here do not appear to matter to him. It’s why he failed to address them in 7 years as First Minister and why we are now receiving widespread support from local people to make sure we hold Gordon.

As MP I would make listening to the people about those issues my first priority, as Malcolm has for 32 years.

We are hearing from people on the doorsteps that they do not want the SNP to hijack their votes purely to pursue independence, something they have already rejected.

It’s easy to see why Christine’s Facebook likes have gone through the roof since Salmond declared, from 300 or so to almost 6000. If you look at her page, it’s all about things that really matter up there – decent mobile signal, broadband speeds, the NHS, supporting local businesses.

Of Salmond’s comments about a second referendum, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:

The former First Minister has broken his word to the Scottish people. Alex Salmond said the referendum was a once in a generation opportunity. But now, if he gets his way, another one will be just round the corner. It beggars belief that within weeks of losing the last referendum he is boasting of a victory in the next one.

I am sure people will be puzzled that Alex Salmond is rubbishing the Smith Commission which is transferring big welfare and tax powers to Scotland.  It is odd as his party signed up to the package of powers.

The SNP took their eye off the ball during the referendum and cancer targets were missed, college places were slashed and hospital went into crisis. Backing Alex Salmond’s plans for another referendum is not in Scotland’s interest

Combating the SNP’s wider plan is going to take a lot more than the “Get over it, you lost” riff that we’re getting from some elements in the pro UK parties. There is no point in taking comfort in complacently thinking that the UK was saved despite a Tory government in Westminster and Better Together being one of the worst campaigns in the history of democracy and is therefore invulnerable. This is far from over and if the pro-UK doesn’t get its act together, we could be facing another referendum within a very short space of time. Public opinion is now broadly on the side of arguments that Liberal Democrats have advanced for decades and more. We need to be very assertive about showing that and explaining what we can offer both UK and Scottish governments in the future. Had we not made so much fuss over armed police, stop and search and human rights, the SNP would not be moving on these issues.

The SNP think they can bide their time and independence will pretty much fall into their lap. It’s up to us to take the lead in making sure that the people of Scotland are given an inspiring alternative, a vision of how the powers we already have can transform our society for the better.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Dec '14 - 4:23pm

    Referendum = neverendum.

    Always a risk that was going to happen. I don’t see it as a big deal though.

  • If the UK and Scottish parties are not careful the English may well demand their say in the future constitutional settlement of the UK, but then that might be what Salmond wants.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Dec '14 - 5:07pm

    I’m glad Caron has written this. The SNP said “oil will pay for it all”, then its value has crashed and Salmond has the cheek to start lecturing England. The first thing he needs to do is apologise.

    I know they said “oil is just a bonus”, but it’s not what their manifesto said.

  • It was always clear that the threat of a referendum on the EU has the potential to initiate a further Scottish independence vote.

    If the Conservatives form a government their travails over the EU will produce an almighty mess that will tie other parties, including Lib Dems in knots, when Cameron presents to the electorate two choices that we do not want: a negotiation that further marginalises the UK, removes protection for conditions of work and goodness knows what else, and the option of leaving.

    If the next government is a minority Labour administration, an EU referendum can be held at bay, and Scots independence may be allowed to follow a different course, but against potential English hostility. This too could be challenge for Lib Dems, if, in the teeth of English discontent, Salmond extracts concessions that fundamentally, Lib Dems would in other circumstances advocate.

    I am sorry we did not take a more agnostic and open minded attitude to the independence referendum question.

  • A very strange article.

    Firstly the Lib Dems bottled their chance to advance their alleged commitment to Home Rule in the Smith Commission so we know that their primary interest in the next two years is to shore up their Westminster position.

    Secondly now that they are in the grip of the Orange Bookers it is clear that the Lib Dems have more in common with the Tories than the SNP or Labour given their support for the Bedroom Tax, tuition fees, top down reorganisation of the NHS as a prelude to privatisation and the recent Autumn Statement. The sidelining of Vince Cable is more evidence of that.

    Thirdly, the Lib Dems have left all the main levers for tackling poverty at Westminster ( e.g. welfare, minimum wage, pensions, and fiscal and monetary economic policy) which is really where their heart is.

    The real issue is that Project Fear which the Lib Dems were such an integral part of had nothing positive to say. Negative campaigning may win you a battle but it doesn’t give you a strategy for winning the war particularly when you bottle the chance to advance what you say – and have said for over a century – is your strategic objective.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Dec '14 - 6:36pm

    Hireton, have you actually read the Smith Commission report? If you had you would see that Scots will have a whole load more control over welfare than you are saying with power to vary levels of benefits and all sorts. That’s not to say that we couldn’t do with some more, e.g. over sanctions, but it’s a pretty good package. Also the language about inter-state negotiation is really good – rather than the “take it or leave it” Westminster hands down now, it’s all about consultation and collaboration. It really is the foundations of a federal state. Not a total federal state, obviously, but a fairly good step towards.

    Also, the NHS is nowhere even close to being privatised – that is a total lie put about by the Yes campaign when it knew it was going to lose.

    Better Together was a rubbish campaign. Yes wasn’t brilliant either. Scotland deserved better and didn’t get it.

  • Caron, yes I have. While there is Universal Credit across the UK any devolution of welfare will be and must be de minimis. The NHS in England is being structured so that privatisation is a step closer and easier and your Orange Book leaders will happily accept an insurance based system when they think the time is ripe. I take it you agree with my other comments that the Lib Dems made no pitch for Home Rule.

  • It was always a mistake to think it was one referendum and then over for a generation. The SNP are the single biggest party in Scotland and their aim is Independence for Scotland which they will continue to push for until it is achieved or they lose enough votes to make their argument irrelevant. What I find odd this obsession with Alex Salmond when the SNP is now headed by Nicola Sturgeon!
    The other point is that the Scots are not going to vote for a Lib Dem party in a coalition with right wing Tories or a Labour party that no longer represents them. The Conservatives are a fringe party in Scotland and are seen as having weird fringe views. Every time they’re elected in England it’s another nail in the Unions coffin,.

  • Adam Robertson 21st Dec '14 - 7:29pm

    I agree with Caron, that Alex Salmond, wants another referendum. I accept that he firmly believes that Scotland should be independent and this should be respected, as the fact that I believe in Liberalism, should be respected. Whether Alex Salmond, is trying use the potential of a balanced parliament, to show that the SNP, is reasonable and the Unionist parties are not is another question altogether.

    This is because this depends on several factors:

    a) Is there going to be a ‘balanced parliament’? Highly Likely at the Present Moment

    b) Who is going to be the largest party if there is a ‘balanced parliament’? Probability suggests Labour, but not guaranteed.

    c) Do Labour prefer Coalition or Minority Government? 50/50 – from what I have seen and heard from various Labour sources.

    d) Who would Labour prefer to work with – the SNP/Plaid/Green ‘ad hoc’ coalition or the Lib Dems? My hunch is that Miliband, would prefer to work with us on an ‘informal coalition’ basis – i.e. ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, than a formal Coalition. This is because we have demonstrated that we can work in a constructive partnership with other parties – with the Conservatives, at UK level and with Labour, both at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. This should held us in good stead.

    Of course this is all hypothetical at the present moment. However, I can see a condition, where another referendum on Scottish Independence, could take place. This is if, the UK, votes ‘OUT’ in a referendum regarding European Union membership. I strongly believe that we should stay ‘IN’, but I do accept the argument, Shirley Williams, presented when Labour, were discussing having a referendum on European Union membership before the 1975 Referendum, that it would be democratic to consult the electorate. I can imagine, some Liberal Democrats, arguing against this but I do believe as a liberal and democratic person, that we should consult the people and reinforce the argument, that being part of the EU, is benefiting, the UK.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Dec '14 - 7:32pm

    @hireton: there is flexibilty to vary the housing elements of Universal Credit and to create other benefits which will then be added to the benefit cap. That’s pretty significant.

    Actually, you don’t have to speculate what our pitch was because we were completely open about it. Here it is. http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/homerule

  • David Howell 22nd Dec '14 - 10:31am

    What is Alex Salmond playing at?

    I would have thought that was obvious . . . He’s positioning himself to lead the next grouping of SNP MP’s at Westminster, which is liable to be a significant number and in the likely event of another hung parliament,, they are the ones who will be in a position of holding the balance of power. . . . Not the LibDems.

    I think you need to come to terms with the fact that your party is on its knees; only awaiting the final coup de grace from the electorate who feel betrayed by the espousal of all the right wing policies foisted upon us by the Tories, whom you have proven powerless to control in any meaningful way..

    If I’m wrong . . . then why have the LibDems failed to hold on to their deposits in the last eleven bi-elections they have fought?

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Dec '14 - 2:22pm

    What is Alex Salmond playing at?

    My view is that, like him or loath him, Alex Salmond is ‘playing at’ being a rather successful politician. Something which it would be helpful if more than half a handful of our Scottish Lib Dem MPs were able to do.

  • David Howell 22nd Dec '14 - 7:13pm

    Stephen W.

    Care to tell us why the SNP have quadrupled their membership since the referendum if what you say is so?

    Could it be that they have proved to be both competent in government – so we can judge them by their actions, not just their words and they have kept their promises . . . unlike some political party leaders we could mention.

    Student fees, ring any bells?

  • Peter Watson 22nd Dec '14 - 10:17pm

    I’d love to hear a SNP supporter’s response to Lib Dem criticism of them for not abandoning their principles.

  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Dec '14 - 12:45am

    Stephen W
    I think you are confusing promises with predictions — understandable, since both are usually expressed with the same tense. But the difference can be detected by whether or not they are expressed in the first person and whether or not they refer to something under the speaker’s direct control.
    “This referendum will be a once in a generation* opportunity” — a prediction.
    “I will vote against any increase in tuition fees” — a promise.

    *Note, by the way, “generation” not “lifetime” — I’m pretty sure no one said it would be once in a lifetime but I stand ready to be corrected.

  • Toby Fenwick 23rd Dec '14 - 1:11am

    Hireton: I don’t get your riff on the NHS. Not only is the English NHS not being privatised (whatever that means – the NHS has always been a mixed economy, with GPs largely being private contractors), as health is entirely devolved, if the SG wants to have a fully privatised or indeed wholly state run NHS, it can do it.

    Not that you’d know this from the disgraceful campaign the SNP/Yes ran on the NHS in the run up to the referendum, of course.

  • Toby Fenwick

    Nick Clegg knew what “being privatised” meant when he called for the NHS to be broken up.
    He is now more discrete about his policy aim to break up and privatise elements of the NHS …. but his memo in 2010 welcoming the Lansley top down reorganisation of the NHS is evidence that Clegg has a personal commitment to changing the fundamental basis on which the NHS has operated since 1948. He wrote that memo only weeks after the Coalition Agreement ink was dry.
    That was the same 2010 Coalition Agreement which I am sure you will remember promised us all that there would be NO TOP-DOWN REORGANISATION OF THE NHS.

  • Alex Salmond is the most effective advocate for Scottish independence for generations. The more personal your attacks become, the more he grows in stature, and the smaller you become. The Scottish Liberal Democrats chose the wrong side on the Scottish Referendum debate, and will pay the price at the General Election. I’ve been a Liberal Party (now Liberal Democrat) member since 1977, and it pains me to say it.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Dec '14 - 10:06am

    @John Tilley “the fundamental basis on which the NHS has operated since 1948. ” that would be that it is free to users. Has anyone suggested changing that ?

  • The NHS in England is not always free at the point of delivery. Prescriptions have to be paid for. There are no longer free eye tests and finding an NHS dentist is not easy. Theses changes date back many years and the blame must lie with various governments going back a long time.

  • @Toby Fenwick

    Not with Barnett in existence it can’t. I also note your careful use of the present tense in relation to the English NHS. The structural changes are clearly intended to make it easier for the Tories and Lib Dems to privatise delivery and move to an insurance based system.

  • It’s Christmas Eve so I feel able to indulge myself …
    for what it was worth I protested here that the LD failure to join Salmond’s first administration because he wanted a referendum would render the party meaningless in Scotland (which usually returns a disproportionately high number of our MPs). That has happened, in spades. In my view, the decision was counter to the party constitution, and in many ways therefore ‘more’ illiberal than anything we have seen since.
    I didn’t see the fees debacle happening in the UK of course, nor Labour being outwitted by the Nats (and also letting ukip off the Thatcherite hook in their traditional heartlands outside of Scotland).
    We now seem to have no uk wide party that can expect to provide a PM, nor obtain a majority in their own right. We also have a number of smaller groupings that could influence a minority government – us, DUP, maybe ukip, and the grouping Salmond will lead (likely to be SNP, Plaid, poss SDLP, Greens). Actually, both the cons anf lab leadership must have concluded that theor best hope of a govt that could work lies with us – if there is no orange implosion.
    Interesting year ahead – I should be feeling more motivated than I am.
    And Caron, given that the SNP now have two and a half times the numbers of members that LDs have in the UK, a little respect for Salmond’s achievements must surely be due. He is a canny man, and committed, and a great politician. How Labour must rue their his leaving their party!

  • Why choose trident to make a red line over? Maybe because he sincerely believes it is wrong and is willing to stick to his principles to the point where if it means he doesn’t get into power then so be it.

    It’s something I really think the lib dems should have done. They should in my opinion have just told the Tories they wanted PR by legislation and tuition fees scrapped or there would be no coalition period. Instead they sold out for an AV vote, a more disproportionate system than FPTP and went back on their personal pledges.

    I really think the lib dems should learn from the SNP. The lesson being that there has to be some big things that you won’t back down over. The SNP actually believe something. They blew their chance at a workin majority in 2007 by insisting on a referendum, but sticking to their principles paid off in the end when they got their majority government and independence vote. They didn’t know they would get this is 2007, they just stuck to their principles and waited to see what the results of doing so would be.

    The lib dems could learn from them.

  • I am praying that the Lib Dems manage to hold Gordon, and I think we will scrape it, as we are losing the incumbency factor with Malcolm Bruce retiring. Regarding the SNP holding another referendum, the UK Government has to allow it regardless of whether the SNP win another majority at Holyrood or not. Cameron stated on the 19th of September “the debate has been settled for a generation”. The SNP will not end up in coalition with Labour at Westminster, regardless of how many seats they win, as the people of England will simply not accept being partly governed by a Scottish nationalist party. As an orange book Lib Dem, I think the best outcome is another Con-LD coalition if we manage to win 25-35 seats which I think is likely. We will still win more seats than the SNP, who claim to be the 3rd largest part in the UK, due to their rising membership, even though they only have 6 seats at Westminster and we have 56. If Salmond were to take Nick Clegg on in any debate, I believe Nick would hold his own and beat him. How many foreign languages can Salmond speak? Nick Clegg is fluent in Spanish, Dutch, French, and German and has lived in the USA, Finland, Belgium, and has a Spanish wife. What life experience does Salmond have outside of Scotland or Westminster?

  • Peter Chegwyn 26th Dec '14 - 12:48pm

    @ Gary Mc Another Con-LD coalition would be the end for our party if we entered it with less than half the seats we currently hold. And if you seriously think that Nick could match Salmond in a TV debate you obviously didn’t watch Nick losing to Farage in the Euros TV debate.

  • Peter Watson 26th Dec '14 - 1:11pm

    Gary Mc “What life experience does Salmond have outside of Scotland or Westminster?”
    Didn’t Salmond work as an economist in the civil service and for a bank?
    What life experience does Clegg have outside the political bubbles of Brussels and Westminster?

  • @Gary MC “I am praying that the Lib Dems manage to hold Gordon, and I think we will scrape it, as we are losing the incumbency factor with Malcolm Bruce retiring. ”

    Having lived in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire most of my life I think the Lib Dems will not only lose Gordon but their other seat in West Aberdeenshire too and that this would be the case regardless of any incumbency factor. The electoral maths says the same.

    Malcolm Bruce got 36% of the vote in 2010 and the SNP came second. Malcolm Bruce got 45% of the vote in 2005 and the SNP came forth, the SNP have been rising in Gordon and the Lib Dems have been falling well before Malcolm Bruce announced his resignation. I predict the SNP will easily win Gordon in 2015 and the Lib Dems will come fourth. See if I’m wrong, I might be… But I don’t think so.

    In Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine the Lib Dem MP Sir Robert Smith won in 2010 with just 38% of the vote and the SNP came third. In 2005 Lib Dem Sir Robert Smith had 46% of the vote and the SNP were in fourth place. I predict the Lib Dems will come third there at the next General Election and the SNP will win that too.

    Aberdeenshire might not be densely populated but it is a vast area and very different politically. In the North of Aberdeenshire , especially along the Buchan coast, Scottish independence is something that is strongly supported, far more than it is in Aberdeen City. Go out west and it is very different, there people seem overwhelmingly royalist and unionist and I believe the overwhelming support for the union in West Aberdeenshire is why Aberdeenshire delivered such a strong No vote in the referendum.

    The reason Lib Dems do so well in General Elections in Scotland (or used to anyway) isn’t because they have strong support. It’s because with four man parties in Scotland splitting the vote four ways FPTP gives them a chance in areas where whey are quite strong.

    As for what Salmond did outside politics I think he was an economist for RBS for a number of years , might have been in the civil service as well, I think. Other than that I don’t know of much else. Why, what have Dave, Ed and Nick and Charles Kennedy done in the real world?

  • Steve Comer 27th Dec '14 - 8:38am

    According to Gary Mc : “… the people of England will simply not accept being partly governed by a Scottish nationalist party.” Well I’m English and would rather be ‘partly governed by the SNP’ than be wholly governed by right-wing Tories or UKIP! And another Con/LD coalition that will insist on tax cuts for the rich, welfare cuts for the poor and people working on reduced pay (in real terms) for much longer is not desperately attractive either.
    I doubt it will come to that – I doubt the SNP will want anything more than a confidence and supply arrangement with any UK Government, after all why would they want to be part-governing a UK they don’t believe in?

    As to why they’ve made an issue of Trident? Well its obvious. Replacing it or not is something that will be decided it in the next Parliament, and having it removed from the Clyde would be a tangible show of success for the SNP’s negotiating position. I expect the Liberal Democrats as a Party would also support non-replacement of Trident, but the Parliamentary Leadership will be endlessly lobbied and briefed by the military-industrial complex, and persuaded that it is necessary, thus negating any Conference vote or membership voice.

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