‘Tuesday 24 June 2014: I moved the decision-making [of Yes Scotland] to mimic SNP election organisation. Round the table, apart from Blair [Jenkins] and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh from Yes, were Nicola, SNP Chief Executive Peter Murell, my long-standing press adviser Kevin Pringle, Geoff Aberdein [Salmond’s Chief of Staff], Stuart Nicholson, my political strategist Stephen Noon, and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson. These are the battle-hardened group who planned and executed the resounding SNP success in 2011’. [P72]
Alex Salmond’s conclusion that ‘The Yes side lost the vote but the referendum changed the nation’ [P256] is undoubtedly true but the wider truth is that Yes mobilised people largely on the SNP’s terms.
Energising people to complete the journey to independence demands a greater political clarity and a propensity to confront the SNP leadership when they are wrong.
For the nationalists cannot do this on their own, they need the wider independence movement even though they give that admission only perfunctory acknowledgement.
Whilst reading this book I came across a fascinating essay entitled ‘Socialists and the SNP’ by Ray Burnett published in Gordon Brown’s ‘Red Paper on Scotland’ in 1975.
Burnett ‘nails’ the essential character of the nationalists and explains how they like to present themselves as outsiders to ‘the establishment circus’ as Salmond puts it [P9] and insist with their party in Government in Scotland since 2007 ‘the accepted order has been smashed’.
Yet the truth is the SNP do not challenge the establishment in Scotland, they want to be part of it. Salmond is a politician whose goal is independence yet while in office he privatises with the worst of them, as the new Sick Children’s Hospital in Edinburgh demonstrates.
He makes cuts to public services as severe as any other party whilst attacking austerity. He backs NATO and decries warmongering. Like Labour, they support neoliberal economics and preach social democracy.
While his book chronicles the journey many like his ‘skilled working class’ father in the 1960s and others in 2014 have made from Labour to the SNP, Burnett can be heard scoffing as the greatest tributes are reserved for wealthy businessmen like Brian Souter, Jim McColl, Tom Hunter, Tom Farmer, Martin Gilbert and Roy McGregor who have made no such journey.
Such ‘Outbreaks of ideological purity’ [P24] as Salmond calls them however are scathingly dismissed by the powerful regime in control of the SNP. Not that they are not ideological themselves. ‘I turned the SNP into an avowed social democratic party,’ boasts Salmond. [P256]
As a master tactician Alex Salmond is a remarkable man totally dedicated to his party with legendary ‘hail fellow well kent’ acumen and political stamina. But like all humans he makes mistakes, some of them crucial. On Day Fifty-Five: Tuesday 5 August [P138] for example, displaying uncharacteristic humility, he admits ‘The first TV debate. I lost. I acted out of character’.
More substantially [P82] outlining the tensions within Yes Scotland over polls that unremittingly found us trailing the No camp, he showed how mistaken his tactics often were. ‘YouGov poll shows 60:40 lead for No’. [P146] ‘YouGov poll shows 56:44 for No’ [P156] and it is here his considerable hubris is on full show.
‘Every sense I have tells me we are home [will win the referendum] and plans are laid for key personnel to play specific roles thereafter. The London media believe we will be beaten, and beaten badly. They are wrong!’ [P96]. They weren’t, unfortunately. He was.
He argues that Gordon Brown’s ‘Vow’ a week before polling day was crucial, yet research published by Edinburgh University has concluded only 2.5 per cent of No voters were influence by it. Most said skepticism about the economic merits of Salmond’s case for independence led them to opt for the Union.
And he is also badly out of step with public opinion today regarding Prince Charles’s dangerous efforts to overturn Westminster Bills he does not like. ‘It’s not terrible at all’ [P113] claims Salmond for the next monarch to try to usurp democracy in this way. Here then is the conservative Alex Salmond, the RBS-trained neoliberal economist and royalist.
The self-confessed ‘sleekit’ politician who covers his conservative tracks by quoting the famous Edinburgh socialist James Connolly. ‘The great only appear great because we are on our knees’ [P231].
Famously fearless on tactics and strategy, Salmond is also shameless in calling in favours from wealthy backers like Jim McColl, Brian Souter, Jim McColl, George Matthewson, Tom Farmer and, of course, the Weirs.
As a participant in Yes Scotland, I enjoyed being reminded of our remarkable journey, but ultimately, Alex Salmond’s book leaves you short. It reads like a picturesque calendar reminding us where we have been but it provides little significant insight on why we lost.
Nor will it, I fear, inspire many of the undecided to come with us or conclude as I do that ‘independence has been deferred not defeated’.