SALMOND resigns, SNP membership trebles and the party soars to record highs of support. “Is there a connection?” joked the man himself in Perth for his final party conference as leader.
There probably is a connection of course, but not in the way he meant. These are quite remarkable times to be alive in this small corner of the world. Our public life remains energised, vibrant and engaged. The sense of crumbling old orders and emerging new ones is all around us. Power is shifting almost everywhere you look and while our attention is grabbed by the headlines about leaders, in truth the impressive possibility is that the meaningful shift of power is to the people, all of us.
The surge in support for the SNP is a response to many things. I am certain that as many people digested the result in deep disappointment and watched the profound and emotional words spoken by Alex Salmond in his resignation speech, something stirred. And that something was a sense that we ought not to nurse our bruises and creep back into the shadows. We rather liked the sunlight.
Others still sensed that they wanted to be part of doing something to make good the result, and the sense across all sides that we wanted to be part of making Scotland all it could be. More than anything that movement in our hearts is the legacy Salmond leaves us with. Quite something. Critics and cynics are chortling, saying how hard it will be for the SNP to welcome all these new members. There are bound to be nutters, extremists and disruption – so goes the wisdom.
The party that has just set a goal of 100,000 members by the election is going to be full of people who just want their home patch to be bettered. The logic that this is a burden is from a very peculiar school of thought.
But change is coming in the SNP in every sense and Salmond knew that he had to be part of that and passed on the torch to the new generation. I think you will struggle to find a more orderly, positive and warm transition of power.
The love, and I use that word advisedly, in the conference as Nicola Sturgeon introduced Salmond to give his final speech was real. It rolled around the huge crowd who had just watched a film of his life. What you saw was not a distant leader respected but without affection. You felt love. And when Salmond praised John Swinney for his remarkable public service endeavour the love moved again. Lengthy emotional applause for a man on whose shoulders has rested so much over the years.
In how many other political parties would you experience this sort of thing? I can’t think of any.
Compare and contrast the transition of power from Blair to Brown. Sturgeon has been nothing but a loyal, talented and utterly committed deputy. If she ever had any fights with Salmond they were in private and undoubtedly with the good of all in mind rather than personal gain.
So now she reaps the harvest for that proper behaviour and assumes the leadership not just of the party she has served all of her adult life, but the country too. Sturgeon is better placed to lead now than Salmond was on either of the occasions he assumed the mantle. She has more experience, she is more prepared, and in terms of fit for the times we are in, she is near perfection in my view for the job that needs done.
Gentle steel is what she represents and it is what she will bring. Meet her mum and you see where she gets it from. Strong women both, who passionately care about the people they are from but who have all the qualities of intuition and warmth that their gender trumps the males on comfortably.
Very quickly she will have to face the travails of being in the seat at which the buck stops. Many troubles ahead, many problems to manage. Keeping the energy of the country and party while navigating a unifying route forward for all is the key challenge, but she is more than up to that task.
Her party and its supporters are ready to take their cue from her. In turn she knows that modern leaders must lead in different ways.
Of course, we haven’t heard the last of Alex Salmond, but he too, is ready to take his heading from the captain who replaces him. The job of former leaders in all walks of life is to offer public support and private counsel. There are few better placed to do just that.
So, in a nation that is world class at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory we now have a party gearing up to do the opposite.
We lost the referendum, we know that and will never forget it, or the implications.
But I am an optimist despite lots of evidence in my experience of life that I ought not to be. I feel very good about the future for my party and my country. And I could not feel more affection for the man who just passed the baton and the woman who has grabbed it with both hands. On with the race. «
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