Alex Salmond - the comeback king of Scottish politics

As one of the most famous politicians in Scotland, the former First Minister remains popular with his loyal followers

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Alex Salmond has been found not guilty of sexually assault charges
Alex Salmond has been found not guilty of sexually assault charges Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

When Alex Salmond was ousted as a Westminster MP in the 2017 General Election, he struck a typically defiant tone as he quoted a Jacobite song.

Accepting defeat with a smile, he said: “So laugh, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee. You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me.”

Fifteen months later, he came good on that promise when he made headlines around the world after it emerged he had been reported to police for sexual misconduct while Scotland’s First Minister.

The politician whose meteoric rise saw him take Scotland to the brink of independence six years ago appeared to be heading for a spectacular fall from grace as he prepared for the trial of the decade in the very city he once ruled his homeland from. 

However, as he emerged from the High Court in Edinburgh it became clear that the big beast of Scottish politics is the comeback kid whom we will see a great deal more of.

Born on Hogmanay in 1954 in Linlithgow, Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond listened to his grandfather, Sandy, regale stories about Scotland’s rich history. His mother Mary, a clerk, was a pro-Churchill Tory, and his father, a civil servant, a one-time communist.

Salmond - nicknamed Skink because he was so skinny - graduated from St Andrews University after reading economics and medieval Scottish history (the latter chosen, very probably, because of his grandfather).

Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond poses for photographers, on stage ahead of his show 'Alex Salmond Unleashed' at the Edinburgh Fringe, in Edinburgh Credit: Russell Cheyne /Reuters

While an assistant economist at the Scottish Office he met his wife, Moira, then his boss, who was 17 years his senior. He then worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Throughout, he remained passionate about Scottish independence and the SNP, which he joined as a student.

After dropping his far-Left approach - he was suspended from the party for a time after joining a Marxist group - he became the MP for Banff and Buchan in 1987.

He took pleasure in troublemaking; most notably seen the following year when he interrupted Nigel Lawson’s budget, refusing to sit down which caused proceedings to halt and resulting in him being suspended from the House for a week. While such antics were not well received in Westminster, they went down a storm back home.

Two years later, he became leader of the SNP, helping the party grow in both confidence and popularity. His self-assured and sharp-witted character helped him become popular with the Scottish electorate, as well as producers of satire television shows, such as Have I Got News for You.

In 2007, he took his party to power in Scotland for the first time - albeit as a minority government after he won by a single seat over Labour. He promptly changed the name of the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government, an act of defiance putting his administration on a par with the then Labour Government in Westminster. 

As First Minister in Bute House, he embarked on his goal of trying to secure Scottish independence.

In 2011, he won a landslide - the first majority government at Holyrood, prompting David Cameron to grant his referendum.

Famous sports personalities, musicians, business people, actors and artists who backed independence were invited to meet the political heavyweight at the Georgian official residence in the New Town of Edinburgh.

Some left with Salmond pressing a signed copy of the 670-page white paper on Scottish independence into their hands.

His grassroots popularity was illustrated when he got repetitive strain injury from shaking so many hands while campaigning for independence in 2014.

But, behind the scenes in the run up to that referendum, civil servants heard a few complaints that the supposedly “touchy, feely” Salmond had made a handful of staff uncomfortable.

He had introduced a culture of working late, based on his time at Westminster where erratic and late hours - often down to very late votes - became the norm.

The Scottish civil service imposed a ban on female staff working with him alone in the evening (something Salmond said he was not informed of). 

A senior civil servant even told bosses how he swiped Salmond’s hand away as he touched a female colleague’s face in a lift, snapping at him “behave yourself”.

However, his legal team argued this was the “touchy feely” Salmond, well known to the Scottish public as an almost paternal figure who greeted supporters with hugs and kisses.

But, the edict banning women being alone with him suggests his Westminster approach to late hours combined with an element of collegiate socialising put him at odds with some mandarins there.

Salmond’s hopes of making history as the leader who secured Scottish independence were dashed when the voters delivered their 55 per cent to 45 per cent verdict in September 2014.

The day after losing he tendered his resignation as SNP leader and First Minister, proclaing: “The dream shall never die”.

He remained a backbencher at Holyrood and then returned to Westminster as an MP in 2015. His determination to seek out the limelight meant he became a thorn in the side of Nicola Sturgeon, the new First Minister, with whom he had shared a close political partnership. 

While an MSP, he had a brief friendship with Donald Trump, then just a multi-billionaire and  owner of land and golfing resorts, including the Mennie Estate Golf complex, in Scotland. 

The pair fell out over plans for a wind farm near the American’s Mennie Estate Golf Complex. In a protracted legal wrangle, Trump feared it would blight views from the range while Salmond saw it as a source of jobs. 

When the UK Supreme Court blocked Trump’s attempts to halt the development, he rang Salmond in the small hours to brand him a “nobody” and “has been”.

He stood down from Holyrood a year later, and in 2017 lost his Westmister seat as the Scottish Conservatives scooped big wins under Ruth Davidson.

But Salmond is a master of reinvention. In August that year, he performed a sell-out chat show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A spattering of smutty jokes, one at the expense of Ms Sturgeon saw her condemn his sense of humour for being stuck in the 1970’s Benny Hill era.

When he moved the ‘Alex Salmond Show’ to RT, there were more questions about whether  working for a Russian state-backed TV channel often accused of peddling Putin propaganda was appropriate.

Any suggestion his only vice was gambling (he was once a newspaper horse-racing tipster and even discussed equestrianism when he met the Queen at Balmoral) was thrown into doubt when the Daily Record broke the news of an investigation into claims of his alleged inappropriate behaviour in August 2018.

He rounded on the allegations as “patently untrue”, conceding he was no saint, before launching a judicial review into the way the Scottish Government had handled the investigation.

His crowdfunding campaign to pay for his defence legal team raised more than £100,000 in a matter of just days, proof - if it were needed - how he commands unwavering loyalty from many nationalists.

In January 2019, Salmond was “delighted” when he won a judicial review which found the processes used by the Scottish Government’s investigation into two women’s complaints of sexual misconduct was “unlawful” and “tainted with apparent bias” (something the Government later conceded).

However, the police investigation continued unabated and later that month Salmond was arrested and appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. 

His supporters, whom he had inspired as SNP leader for a total of 20 years, said the “Wee Eck” - as he was known - was the victim of a “character assassination” in a politically motivated “witch hunt”.

Throughout his protestations of innocence, he placed his reliance on “real justice in a real court”, adding that he would accept the verdict of a Scottish jury. 

The Scottish court delivered its verdict, confirming he is without doubt the comeback kid of Scottish politics, and the public has not seen the last of him.